As you transition into your civilian career, you’ve undoubtedly begun to realize that who you know, how they know you and how you’re perceived by people with influence matters.
The art and practice of professional networking is filled with nuance, written and implied rules, and metrics to drive results.
Some of those nuances can make a huge impact on your ability to forge productive and strategic relationships that help you advance your value and career in meaningful ways.
One small, often-overlooked networking tip is pronouncing someone’s name correctly. Sounds simple, right? You’d be amazed at how many times a pronunciation misstep can lead to someone not being interested in learning more about you or reluctance to offering you an opportunity.
While that might sound drastic and dramatic, consider how simple it is to learn and then pronounce someone’s name correctly.
Mispronunciation is not always meant to be a slight. Sure, there are probably people out there who intentionally “mis-say” someone’s name to gain a perceived position of power or otherwise undermine the other’s value, but I’d like to think this is rare.
In most cases, it’s because people talk fast or because someone has misheard the correct pronunciation. The pronunciation might actually be a different way of saying a name. A person could also simply know someone who pronounces the same name differently, and use their pronunciation for someone else whose name is pronounced in a different way.
- “Dana.” This name, often pronounced in the U.S. as “day-nuh,” can also be pronounced “dah-nah” in other countries.
- “Beau.” Though usually pronounced as “bo,” it can be said “beau” (as in “beautiful”) by some foreign speakers.
- “Lida.” Correctly pronounced “lee-dah,” it is also often pronounced “lie-da” or “leh-da” or even as Linda, Lisa, Lita, Lydia and so on … as if my name is misspelled.
Names are very personal to the people who own them and the parents who assigned them. Learning how to pronounce someone’s name correctly is a sign of respect and is not to be underestimated. Even a valid attempt is appreciated.
How to Pronounce Names Correctly
As someone with an unusual name (that’s commonly misspelled and mispronounced) who frequently works with individuals from other countries whose names are not common to me, here’s how I’ve learned to pronounce names correctly:
1. Google the pronunciation.
Yes, you can get Google’s help to correctly say someone’s name. Entering in the Google search bar, “Pronounce Lida” or “Pronounce the name Jaldip” directs you to YouTube pronunciation tools and various other online sites.
These tools offer correct name pronunciations based on country of origin or other factors. Some sites offer written pronunciation keys, while others allow you to hear the actual sound of the name being spoken.
2. Write it down phonetically.
When I worked with a client in Poland named “Jacek,” I first Googled the pronunciation. Then, I wrote down what I heard phonetically for my own use.
For me, it was easiest to write “yacht-seck” as that was how I could remember the correct way to say his name. While the written pronunciation keys offered online are helpful, using language and cues that will help you best are important.
3. Watch spell-check.
We’ve all experienced that dread when you send off an email, message or text and realize that your auto-correct changed Lida to Linda, Marc to Mark or Jamie to Jaime. As best you can, try to catch these errors before they are sent. If you realize afterward that either you mistyped the spelling of their name or your phone or computer helped you do it, quickly own the error. Personally, I know it happens often and appreciate when someone acknowledges the error and apologizes. I’d rather do this than to leave the misspelling out there when I know you know the correct way my name is said and written.
4. Repeat it back after they say it to you.
I also listen to how the other person says their own name. There can be various pronunciations of names (for example, Ana, Jamie, Angel, Jesus and so on). When someone introduces their name, repeat it back to them to ensure you got it correctly. Then, write it down for yourself phonetically so you can remember it.
5. Find a visual relationship.
For example, with my client Jacek, I visualized a yacht to help me remember the pronunciation. For Beau, I might picture a bowtie or a hair bow to remember how to say the name.
Individual names can be tricky, particularly if they are unique or not common in your native language. But to the person gifted a memorable and creative name (which could be a long-standing family name or otherwise meaningful to that person’s heritage), effort on your part goes a long way to build a strong networking relationship.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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