Growing up, my ol’ man had a nickname for everyone. I don’t know if it was because he couldn’t remember anyone’s name or because he thought it was funny. Whatever the reason, if you knew him (and he liked you) you got assigned a name. At his work there was a Flopjaw, Leo, Goliath, and a myriad of others. His naming wasn’t just relegated to work; each of us kids had a name as well. My brothers were Buck, Beanhead, Doodle, and my sister was “Sis” (okay, not that imaginative but it was still a nickname). Either through nature or nurture, this “gift” for naming people was passed on to me. Regardless of where I worked or the position I held, I’ve named my co-workers. Never derogatory – but a positive reflection of the traits they radiated during their daily interaction with me. It made no difference if I was working with Sparky, Sprocket, or Sparkle, the result of my nicknaming was nearly always positive. Here’s what it could do for you if you’re willing to take the risk.
If you are to come up with a really accurate, positive nickname for a co-worker, it takes time and reflection. You MUST take the time to really watch, learn, and get to know this person. This is never a bad thing – especially when you are focusing in on the good. We spend hours, days, and, yes, sometimes years focusing in on the things that irritate us about others. Taking some time to focus in on the good can help us change our perceptions of that person and, in turn, appreciate them on a different level. If we change our perceptions, we can change our world!
Once I would finalize a name (and, yes, it would sometimes take a few revisions to get it just right), I would start easing the person into their new name. Undoubtedly, the question would always arise, “Why are you calling me that?” This question would give me the perfect opportunity to ease into his or her positive traits. For instance, when working with Sprocket (who could be negative at times), I explained to her that she was named such because “You make things go!” When I would call her Sprocket she would smile and I could see her spirit lift a bit. But here’s the key: A nickname has to be positive and if the person doesn’t like the name it can’t be used.
In a formal organization, we are quick to figure out who fits where and who does what. Once we have this down, we then start to know people as what they do versus who they are. Add some cubicles and email and you’ve got a nice, sterile environment where teamwork, productivity, and creativity wane. Nicknames add personality and are personable. They are a huge fluorescent splash of color on a flat white wall. When we know each other by more than title and/or job but as people, there’s no limit to where we can go as an organization.
Do not feel as if this burden lies solely on you. Bring your team into the mix and ask them to help. Here are some possibilities for brainstorming at your next meeting to help each other come up with positive nicknames:
- Rap Names
- Disney Characters
- Greek Gods
- Western Icons
- Famous Explorers
The possibilities are endless and the reward great when we work to know those around us, break barriers and build community. Those are the organizations people want to be a part of – where they can flourish and progress is made! Oh, and my nicknames? I’ve been Chipper the Skipper, Golden Boy, The Professor, Pookey Bear, and one of the Wonder Twins. But the best is the one that came from the master himself, my father, who just refers to me as “The Wiener.”