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Back in 1898, a tragic thing happened in Rockland County, New York. A child had died, and on this particular day the neighbours were preparing to go to the funeral. Jim Farley went out to the barn to hitch up his horse. The ground was covered with snow, the air was cold and snappy; the horse hadn’t been exercised for days; and as he was led out to the watering-trough, he wheeled playfully, kicked both his heels high into the air, and killed Jim Farley. So the little village of Stony Point had two funerals that week instead of one.
Jim Farley left behind him a widow and three boys, and a few hundred dollars in insurance.
His oldest boy, Jim, was ten, and he went to work in a brickyard, wheeling sand and pouring it into the moulds and turning the brick on edge to be dried by the sun. This boy Jim never had a chance to get much education. But with his Irish geniality, he had a flair for making people like him, so he went into politics, and as the years went by, he developed an uncanny ability for remembering people’s names.
He never saw the inside of a high school; but before he was forty-six years of age, four colleges had honoured him with degrees, and he had become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Postmaster General of the United States.
I once interviewed Jim Farley and asked him the secret of his success. He said: “Hard work,” and I said, “Don’t be funny.”
He then asked me what I thought was the reason for his success, I replied: “I understand you can call ten thousand people by their first names.”
“No. You are wrong,” he said. “I can call fifty thousand people by their first names.”
Make no mistake about it. That ability helped Mr. Farley put Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House.
During the years that Jim Farley travelled as a salesman for a gypsum concern, and during the years that he held office as town clerk in Stony Point, he built up a system for remembering names.
In the beginning it was a very simple one. Whenever he met a new acquaintance, he found out his complete name, the size of his family, the nature of his business, and the colour of his political opinions. He got all these facts well in mind as part of the picture, and the next time he met that man, even if it was a year later, he was able to slap him on the back, inquire after the wife and kids, and ask about the hollyhocks in the backyard. No wonder he developed a following!
For months before Roosevelt’s campaign for President began, Jim Farley wrote hundreds of letters a day to people all over the western and north-western states. Then he hopped on to a train and in nineteen days covered twenty states and twelve thousand miles, travelling by buggy, train, automobile, and skiff. He would drop into town, meet his people at lunch or breakfast, tea or dinner, and give them a “heart-to-heart talk”. Then he’d dash off again on another leg of his journey.
As soon as he arrived back East, he wrote to one man in each town he had visited, asking for a list of all the guests to whom he had talked. The final list contained thousands and thousands of names; yet each person on that list was paid the subtle flattery of getting a personal letter from James Farley. These letters began “Dear Bill” or “Dear Joe”, and they were always signed “Jim”.
Jim Farley discovered early in life that the average man is more interested in his own name than he is in all the other names on earth put together. Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid him a subtle and very effective compliment. But forget it or misspell it—and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage. For example, I once organized a public-speaking course in Paris and sent multigraphed letters to all the American residents in the city. French typists with apparently little knowledge of English filled in the names and naturally they made blunders. One man, the manager of a large American bank in Paris, wrote me a scathing rebuke because his name had been misspelled.
What was the reason for Andrew Carnegie’s success?
He was called the Steel King; yet he himself knew little about the manufacture of steel. He had hundreds of men working for him who knew far more about steel than he did.
But he knew how to handle men, and that is what made him rich. Early in life, he showed a flair for organization, a genius for leadership. By the time he was ten, he, too, had discovered the astonishing importance people place on their own name. And he used that discovery to win co-operation. To illustrate: When he was a boy back in Scotland, he got hold of a rabbit, a mother rabbit. Presto! He soon had a whole nest of little rabbits—and nothing to feed them. But he had a brilliant idea. He told the boys in the neighbour-hood that if they would go out and pull enough clover and dandelions to feed the rabbits, he would name the bunnies in their honour.
The plan worked like magic; and Carnegie never forgot it.
Years later, he made millions by using that same psychology in business. For example, he wanted to sell steel rails to the Pennsylvania Railroad. J. Edgar Thomson was the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad then. So Andrew Carnegie built a huge steel mill in Pittsburgh and called it the “Edgar Thomson Steel Works”.
Here is a riddle. See if you can guess it, When the Pennsylvania Railroad needed steel rails, where do you suppose J. Edgar Thomson bought them?. . ., From Sears, Roebuck? No. No. You’re wrong. Guess again.
When Carnegie and George Pullman were battling each other for supremacy in the sleeping-car business, the Steel King again remembered the lesson of the rabbits.
The Central Transportation Company, which Andrew Carnegie controlled, was fighting with the company that Pullman owned. Both were struggling to get the sleeping-car business of the Union Pacific road, bucking each other, slashing prices, and destroying all chance of profit. Both Carnegie and Pullman had gone to New York to see the board of directors of the Union Pacific. Meeting one evening in the St. Nicholas Hotel, Carnegie said: “Good evening, Mr. Pullman, aren’t we making a couple of fools of ourselves?”
“What do you mean?” Pullman demanded.
Then Carnegie expressed what he had on his mind—a merger of their two interests. He pictured in glowing terms the mutual advantages of working with, instead of against, each other. Pullman listened attentively, but he was not wholly convinced. Finally he asked: “What would you call the new company?” and Carnegie replied promptly: “Why, the Pullman Palace Car Company, of course.”
Pullman’s face brightened. “Come into my room,” he said. “Let’s talk it over.” That talk made industrial history.
This policy of Andrew Carnegie’s of remembering and honouring the names of his friends and business associates was one of the secrets of his leadership. He was proud of the fact that he could call many of his labourers by their first names; and he boasted that while he was personally in charge, no strike ever disturbed his flaming steel mills.
Paderewski, on the other hand, made his coloured Pull- man chef feel important by always addressing him as “Mr. Copper”. On fifteen different occasions, Paderewski toured America, playing to wildly enthusiastic audiences from coast to coast; and on each occasion he travelled in a private car and the same chef had a midnight meal ready for him after the concert. Never in all those years did Paderewski ever call him “George” after the American manner. With his old-world formality, Paderewski always spoke to him as “Mr. Copper”, and Mr. Copper loved it.
Men are so proud of their names that they strive to perpetuate them at any cost. Even blustering, hard-boiled old P. T. Barnum, disappointed because he had no sons to carry on his name, offered his grandson, C. H. Seeley, $25,000 if he would call himself “Barnum” Seeley.
Two hundred years ago, rich men used to pay authors to dedicate their books to them.
Libraries and museums owe their richest collections to men who cannot bear to think that their names might perish from the memory of the race, The New York Public Library has its Astor and Lenox collections. The Metropolitan Museum perpetuates the names of Benjamin Altman and J. P. Morgan. And nearly every church is beautified by stained-glass windows commemorating the names of the donors.
Most people don’t remember names, for the simple reason that they don’t take the time and energy necessary to concentrate and repeat and fix names indelibly in their minds. They make excuses for themselves; they are too busy.
But they are probably no busier than Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he took time to remember and recall even the names of mechanics with whom he came in contact.
To illustrate: The Chrysler organization built a special car for Mr. Roosevelt. W. F. Chamberlain and a mechanic delivered it to the White House. I have in front of me a letter from Mr. Chamberlain relating his experiences. “I taught President Roosevelt how to handle a car with a lot of unusual gadgets, but he taught me a lot about the fine art of handling people.”
“When I called at the White House”, Mr. Chamberlain writes, “the President was extremely pleasant and cheerful. He called me by name, made me feel very comfortable, and particularly impressed me with the fact that he was vitally interested in the things I had to show him and tell him. The car was so designed that it could be operated entirely by hand. A crowd gathered around to look at the car; and he remarked: ‘I think it is marvellous. All you have to do is to touch a button and it moves away and you can drive it without effort. I think it is grand—I don’t know what makes it go. I’d love to have the time to tear it down and see how it works.’
“When Roosevelt’s friends and associates admired the machine, he said in their presence: ‘Mr. Chamberlain, I certainly appreciate all the time and effort you have spent in developing this car. It is a mighty fine job.” He admired the radiator, the special rear-vision mirror and clock, the special spotlight, the kind of upholstery, the sitting position of the driver’s seat, the special suitcases in the trunk with his monogram on each suitcase. In other words, he took notice of every detail to which he knew I had given considerable thought. He made a point of bringing these various pieces of equipment to the attention of Mrs. Roosevelt, Miss Perkins, the Secretary of Labour, and his secretary. He even brought the old coloured porter into the picture by saying: ‘George, you want to take particularly good care of the suitcases.’
“When the driving lesson was finished, the President turned to me and said: ‘Well, Mr. Chamberlain, I have been keeping the Federal Reserve Board waiting thirty minutes. I guess I had better get back to work.’
“I took a mechanic with me down to the White House. He was introduced to Roosevelt when he arrived. He didn’t talk to the President, and Roosevelt heard his name only once. He was a shy chap, and he kept in the background. But before leaving us, the President looked for the mechanic, shook his hand, called him by name, and thanked him for coming down to Washington. And there was nothing perfunctory about his thanks. He meant what he said. I could feel that.
“A few days after returning to New York, I got an autographed photograph of President Roosevelt and a little note of thanks, again expressing his appreciation for my assistance. How he finds time to do it is a mystery to me.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that one of the simplest, most obvious, and most important ways of gaining good will is by remembering names and making people feel important—yet how many of us do it?
Half the time we are introduced to a stranger, chat a few minutes, and can’t even remember his name when we say good-bye.
One of the first lessons a politician learns is this: “To recall a voter’s name is statesmanship. To forget it is oblivion.”
And the ability to remember names is almost as important in business and social contacts as it is in politics.
Napoleon the Third, Emperor of France and nephew of the great Napoleon, boasted that in spite of all his royal duties he could remember the name of every person he met.
His technique? Simple. If he didn’t hear the name distinctly, he said: “So sorry. I didn’t get the name clearly.” Then, if it was an unusual name, he would say, “How is it spelt?”
During the conversation he took the trouble to repeat the name several times, and tried to associate it in his mind with the man’s features, expression, and general appearance.
If the man were someone of importance, Napoleon went to even further pains. As soon as His Royal Highness was alone, he wrote the man’s name down on a piece of paper, looked at it, concentrated on it, fixed it securely in his mind, and then tore up the paper. In this way, he gained an eye impression of the name as well as an ear impression.
All this takes time, but “Good manners”, said Emerson, “are made up of petty sacrifices”.
So if you want people to like you, Rule 3 is:
REMEMBER THAT A MAN’S NAME IS TO HIM THE SWEETEST AND MOST IMPORTANT SOUND IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.