I've always been bad at remembering people's names. I might go to a yearly party where I see some of the same people. But because I don't see them more than once a year, I not only forget their names, but I forget pretty much everything about them except remembering that I'd seen them "somewhere", often not remembering that the "somewhere" was at the previous party.

gagnonm1993 via Pixabay

Working alone for 19 years hasn't helped me much with that issue. When I was traveling, it might take me a week to remember the names of the people I was working with regularly unless I spent a significant amount of time with them. For others, it might take me a month if I only saw them once a week. Name tags didn't help; I've always had trouble looking quickly at them and seeing what a person's name was.

Luckily, when I was a full time employee, I remembered the names of other workers quicker. It might have been because, since I was an anomaly, I worked hard to make a positive impression on everyone... or it could have just been because I was younger. lol In any case, I knew the importance of knowing everyone's name I worked with and saw within the organization on a regular basis; those are important names to remember.

It's even more important now in the days of making sure you don't insult anyone who's a part of the LGBTQ community. Things have changed drastically over the last few years, to the extent that now many people are defining themselves by pronouns many of us aren't used to yet.

Truthfully, I couldn't remember what a pronoun was initially; it's been a long time since I was in an English class. So, when I started noticing that some people on social media were adding things such as "they, them" or even "she, her" to their names, I was totally confused as to what was going on. As someone who writes and speaks on diversity topics, this one caught me off guard... and I knew I had to catch up on it... somehow...

This is related to terms such as "gender fluidity" and "non-binary gender". I'm not going to pretend to know everything about either of these terms; I probably only know 20% of it, if that. It took me 2 years to finally understand the concept of "cisgender".

In a strange way to connect some of this, I thought back to the 60's and 70's when, first there was a disconnect between those of us who wanted to be called "black" instead of "colored", then some who wanted to be called "African-American" instead of black. It was hard enough for people who were of the community being discussed to deal with it; I can only imagine what it was like for those outside the community to come to grips with it (although by the turn of the century, there had been enough time for white people to stop using the term "colored" without being shocked when we responded badly to it; but I digress...).

Gay Pride Parade, Memphis

With all of that, this brings us to the reality that there's a lot of people, especially leaders of others, who probably aren't mentally or educationally ready to handle all the terms. What this means is that it's more important now than ever before to start making sure to learn the names of people you're working with and others you might encounter during your work day. It's also more important to realize that you're going to have to change some of the language you use when talking to or about groups of people.

For instance, leaders (and others) could encounter push back if someone is part of a group that's being addressed as "ladies" or "guys". Leaders could encounter push back when trying to set dress code rules for those who don't accept the former "norms" everyone was used to. If you're a leader, you can't afford to say "I treat everyone equally", "I don't have time to learn all that stuff" or whatever complaint you might have. Not only your job, but your company's liability in a discrimination case could be on the line, something all leaders in all companies should already be used to and should have already learned to adjust their behavior (which of course hasn't happened).

The other problem is trying to make sure you don't overthink things. I had that problem last week when I was trying to figure out how to say a particular sentence using one of the new pronouns. I went to a friend of mine to help me through it, and all it took was editing the sentence differently... just like I do when I'm writing; duh! lol

The best ways to get around all of this begins with remembering, then using, people's names. The next thing is using terminology that addresses and entire group without leaning towards standard male/female terminology. For instance, being raised by a Southern woman and spending a lot of time with a Southern grandmother, using the term "y'all" works well for me, even if sometimes it still makes New Yorkers giggle when I use it. 🙂

It's not all that hard to do if you're willing to keep an open mind, even if it might be a bit uncomfortable initially. Even I had to be willing to absorb some of what I'm talking about when I was writing about black issues earlier in the year and, even angry, realized that changing a bit of terminology to "willful ignorance" instead of using "tone deaf" was kinder to those with hearing disabilities who've had to deal with that particular double standard for most of their lives.

It's an important distinction that anyone in a leadership position, and anyone in human resources, needs to get behind, learn something about, and be ready to change your behavior and words. The world is changing fast; if you don't want to fall behind or become obsolete, you'll figure it out, even if you have to ask a lot of questions to get there. Just get it done!

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