The Fish Broker’s Secret

fish guy

I love to ask, “Who was that person?”

The reservations agent answers, “It was just a guy checking rates. He didn’t give his name.”

The valet parking attendant says, “You mean the 2012 Lexus?”

The porter replies, “I dunno, but he had four heavy bags.”

The waiter says, “I told him that my name is Geoff, but he didn’t give me his name.”

The front desk agent tells me, “I checked 36 rooms in this morning. Should I remember them all?”   

And I ask the general manager, who replies, “Not a regular.”

When I say: “Good morning! How are you?” I expect to hear, “Fine, thank you. And you?” It’s one of the universal laws of politeness, part of a code of civility and reciprocity that has been around so long that it’s almost instinctive. More than that, it opens the door to the possibility of a conversation. That innocuous first exchange can be the beginning, as Humphrey Bogart famously said, of “a beautiful friendship.”

Whether you feel it or not, when we exchange and use each other’s names, we develop a wee bit of familiarity. You’re no longer just “the reservations agent at the Grand Hotel,” but “Karen at the Grand Hotel.” A name attached to a friendly voice means a lot. It lays the groundwork for a business relationship built on affinity created by providing a personal touch.

Using a guest’s name isn’t a panacea. It’s a start.  

However you think of it – as a sign of respect, friendliness, hospitality or as politeness – make using clients’ names a habit. As Dale Carnegie observed, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

It’s not hard to find out the guest’s name. You can ask for it outright, if on the phone: “This is Scotty in Engineering. May I ask your name, please?” If you’re face-to-face, a pause works well: “Hello, I’m Sharon. Welcome to River Palace. Ms. …?”

Once you’ve heard the name, the best memory trick is to try and use it three times in the next few minutes. Saying the name silently works, but nothing beats actually using the name in a conversation.

I once had a friend who was a fish broker. He bought wholesale at the docks in the morning and sold to restaurants in the afternoon. He was funny and engaging, and he was very good at his job, partly because he loved the game, and partly because he was horrified at the prospect of owning 500 pounds of a depreciating asset like black cod overnight.

He had a habit of calling his friends, blurting out a joke, then hanging up. Every time he heard a good one, he made three calls and repeated it, fast, and hung up. Then, he owned the joke forever.

Unlike his black cod.


Scott H. Lewis is managing director for the CIS region of Signature Europe. A former journalist and public relations counselor, he has provided crisis, public speaking and presentation training to senior executives across Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. He is the author of “60 Seconds to ‘Wow!’” a book on presentation skills.  An American, he has lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for more than a decade.

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