Never underestimate the predictability of human nature

Hostage negotiation consultants who run bank robbery prevention trainings have a mantra.

Ignore human nature at your own peril.

One of the tactics they teach to tellers is to disclose personal information. If your bank is being held up, and the robbers start shoving you across the room, introduce yourself. Repeat your name over and over again. Humanize yourself and condition the robbers to know who you are.

It develops a relationship with your captor. And when you find a way to become a real person they’re going to want to make friends with, not just a hostage, your chances of survival are far greater.

This tactic seems counterintuitive and intimidating, but once again, never underestimate the predictability of human nature.

Names are proven to reduce the social distance between people. Archeologists have been studying this phenomenon for years. Particularly when it comes to classifying human remains.

Leighton’s research, a widely cited study on the topic, notes that each additional piece of information that can be gleaned from a person acts as another layer of identity laid back onto them. And their name is the leading example.

Take away someone’s name and you turn them into a number or an object. You start an active depersonalization process, stripping the person’s body of its too obvious personhood.

But call them by their name, and you restore something of the person. You make them more real. Even through such small pieces of information.

It’s the opposite of the lobster boiling rule, which is, never name the fish before you cook it. It’s not your pet, it’s your dinner. Naming it makes it too real, which makes you want to save it, and not eat it.

And so, crustaceans notwithstanding, name matters. They have never not mattered. Doing so restores the balance of power and tips the scales towards humanity and connection.

It’s one of the reasons wearing a nametag has been so effective.

Because people can’t help but know my name, they can’t help but treat me as a person.

Hasn’t gotten me out of any bank robberies yet, but there’s always hope. 

Whom do you see all the time whose name you still don’t know?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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