Call People “Who They Are,” Not What’s Comfortable for You

“Hey Hon, hurry up, we’re going to be late to the party.” “I’m coming, sorry, just not feeling that motivated right now. We’ve had so many holiday parties. And, you know how I hate to be the first ones there anyway.” She sees my slight “ugh” face. She walks on over, puts her arm around my waist, gives me a sweet kiss on the cheek, as I’m adjusting my tie in the mirror. My ugh-face melts away. She makes a mild comment about hoping she’ll remember the names of my teams’ spouses. And we’re off to the party.

We check our coats, connect with the peeps we’re very familiar with right out the gate, and meander our way over to the bar. We’re feeling good, hanging out and having a fun time. After a spot of time, it’s time for me to mingle with the rest of the company, I’m now the VP of people and culture. I move around the room and my better half, she visits in the comfort with some of the people we’ve known for almost 20 years. And as usual, she is very as ease moving around a party on her own, meeting and getting to know some new faces. We both move about, sharing stories, busting out in laughter, cheers-ing away. And without fail, checking in occasionally with a subtle handhold, a shoulder-touch-lean-in, or, looking for that affirming nod across the room from each other.

Uh-oh, Sally just got to the party with her husband. She waves at me from across the room. “Crap! I can’t remember her husband’s name!” I wave to her, giving her the, “I’ll be over in just-a-minute” hand gesture, along with the “I’m heading to the bar to get another drink, tipping the invisible glass to my mouth” gesture. I bought some time. Now I’m in a mad scan to find my wife, I need to find a way to get the name of the guy, that I’ve met three times, and for some reason, I can’t member his name.

“Phew, there she is,” and somehow, she can feel my panicked gaze. We lock eyes, and she can tell my look that nobody else can. We meet off to the side of the room where I let her know, “I can’t remember Sally’s husband’s name.” My better half decides to just go say hi to Sally (she knew her pretty well), and then reintroduce herself to Sally’s husband to get his name. She recons the information back to me. Then, she gives me the head nod and says I’ll take that drink now, with a smile. I make a beeline to the bar to get her filthy vodka martini, and a whiskey sour for myself.

I scan the room like I don’t know where Sally and her husband Mike are. Sally waves and we head on over.

This sure seems like a lot of effort to get somebody’s name. Yes, it is, because he’s a person and his name matters to him. We all live in the old television show, Cheers, we all want to be in the place where “everybody knows your name.” It’s how we’re affirmed and recognized in our identities as unique whole people. And yes, some of my effort was to try to avoid some embarrassment on my part. Yep, sure was.

Ok, I probably could’ve just walked over to Mike and said, “my apologies, I’m sorry dude, I’ve forgotten your name,” and that would’ve saved me a lot of anxiety and effort. And I’m sure he would’ve graciously just told me. Sally probably would’ve given me a well-deserved ribbing. Truth is, after a couple more cycles of creative recon with my wife, I did decide, it’s just better to be vulnerable and genuinely say, “I’m sorry for letting your name escape me, please tell me again.”

When We Don’t Use “Their” Names

Now, suppose instead I greeted him with, “Hey dude, glad you made it to party this year… Dude… oh and Dude… Dude that would have been harrowing…” and never got his name and acknowledged his identity. It sure could have been more comfortable for me in my self-deceiving embarrassment and shame. But… sooner or later, and it is usually sooner, someone says to themselves, “you don’t know my name, you don’t see me.” And then on the Uber ride home that night, Sally would’ve asked Mike, “did you have fun tonight.” Mike would have told Sally, there’s no reason for me to come to these parties, I’m just some dude.

And on the next day and thereafter, there’d be an off-ness between Sally and I. Anything that we would do together in the future, we’d first have to cross that party-foul.

People of Color vs Truly Recognizing People

I recently got corrected when I was a LinkedIn connection about a friend of mine, this black man I know, Dale Favors. My LinkedIn connection proceeded to correct my language by asking me rhetorically, shouldn’t I be saying Person of Color? There was an awkward pause. I said, “no, for a few reasons, and if you’d really like to hear, I’m happy to share them with you.” Yep, there was another awkward pause, followed by, “uh… sure.” (There was a bit of irony here too, my LinkedIn connection from the conversation above is white.)

I chose to be vulnerable and be okay with him guiding and correcting my use of the terms and names for who he is.

Here’s what I explained. If you don’t know what somebody wants to be called, ask them. They are not just some dude or dude-et. Through conversation, Dale let me know that he wants to be called a black man if we’re talking about skin color and ethnicity. That’s what he wants. Then, that’s what he gets. His experiences are unique to him as Dale and as a black man. I’ve got other friends named Dale, both white, and they do not have his experiences nor his resulting incredible strengths that he’s developed from those experiences. His experiences are not people of color experiences, they are black male experiences. Yep, and there’s a wide range in that category also. Him telling me that he is a black man, and me using that term in what it means from him, lets me see the deeper and more real Dale-ness. And no, I did not use my wife in I recon mission to find out these things about Dale. I chose to be vulnerable and be okay with him guiding and correcting my use of the terms and names for who he is.

Then I also said to my LinkedIn connection, we, whites, use the term people of color in our laziness instead of going to the vulnerable place and taking the time to understand and know them, and their uniqueness. Sometimes we find out in this exchange that we, white people, benefited from an advantage that led to their expense. The term people of color, allows us to sidestep that guilt, warranted or not. We stop seeing them and go to what we want to see instead.

Oh, and by the way, if any other of my black friends let me know that they prefer to be called a person of color, I’ll use that for and on behalf of them for any story that I might share about each of them as an individual.

So, unless your a person of color telling me to use the term person of color, I’ll choose to use deeper and more defining language that you ask, guide, and or correct me in my use. I want to see you.

I don’t want to invite people of color to my party. I want to invite people I can really see, in their specific colors and ethnicities, in their strengths and their character, that’s resulted from their heritage and sometimes pretty f*#&ed up systems. I will not whitewash who they are for my convenience and comfort, because, and this is going sound a little selfish, the depth of the relationships I get with people in how they name themselves, is way more beautiful and rewarding in my experience.


Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

You want to go where people know
The people are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name

And when Dale shows up in our Cheers ShiftUP happy hour, I will definitely throw down a “DALE! My Brotha!”


Paul Haury
Paul Haury
Belonging Coach & Evangelist for Heart-Based Leadership in Workplace Culture & Happiness. I’m a coach, a mentor, an optimist that nerds-out on all things in the social-behavioral and neurosciences for what motivates us in how we can be better, and, get us to with whom and where we belong. The paths that get us there follow roads of vulnerable togetherness, kind and honest challenges in personal accountability, and a deep curious appreciation for being wholly human in full potential. It’s here, where we land on the good side of our fears and aspirations, and make our dreams happen. We’ll never do anything as well, as when we’re doing what we’re doing with and for those we love. I help people create their own unique spaces to go farther and higher in their individual brilliance than they ever could alone.

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  1. Thanks for the kind words Aldo. Everyone of the aspects you note, inextricably require us to really see somebody. I especially like the span of, “to routine meetings or to extraordinary meetings.” Imagine a manager seeking to have a meeting with her employee so that the meeting would be extraordinary to him.

    It’s an honor to be in BizCatalyst360 with you.

  2. Interesting and worthy of endorsement contents.
    It is not possible to emerge and maintain one’s position without making the most of internal resources. Knowing how to recognize and rely on the skills and competences of their employees, know how to evaluate and support their development, are essential skills for anyone, within their professional and organizational context, has the responsibility to manage other people or want to apply for this role. Knowing the personal characteristics and motivations of employees is needed to support growth and facilitate organizational development. A good leader, to manage and drive the most of his people, must adopt different techniques and methodologies ranging from disclosure to routine meetings or to extraordinary meetings, and much more to better understand the needs and know the strengths of collaborator and interact with its competencies effectively.