April 7, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver
“Hearing our name when said in a friendly, non-sarcastic or negative tone of voice is one of the sweetest sounds as it creates a chemical reaction inside our brain which then releases the feel-good hormones, dopamine and serotonin, demonstrated by functional MRI studies,” observes psychology professor Dr. Luis Vega of Cal State Bakersfield, whose professional interests include methods of persuasion.
He points out that, “Being on a first name basis creates clan connections — a circle of trust — for harnessing the good, psychological benefits such as seeing the other person in our tribe, giving us a sense of belonging, safe space, and expediency as in I can trust you to look after my interests, to scratch your back as you mine.
“It is why in North America, sales professionals are urged to establish a sincere first-name basis as soon as possible. And today, we are finding that many physicians are inviting their patients to call them by their first names, which has the benefit of reducing anxiety when visiting the doctor’s office.
“But never forget the power of a first name used in manner to provoke a needed, urgent response,” Vega adds.
And then there’s “Mrs. Dr. Gee”
In my town, when professionals meet — physicians, lawyers, CPAs architects — it is common to use first names. It is extremely rare to find a physician who insists on being called Dr.
But Dr. “Gee” was the exception.
As I would learn, his wife was even more title obsessed.
She is Refusing to pay for the Repairs!
With the police close to being called on his wife — who refused to pay for major automotive repairs on her European car — and tried to drive off (the dealership was my client) because “I am the wife of “Dr. G. …”
I phoned Dr. Gee, warmly addressing him by his first name. He replied: “Counselor, address me as Dr. “Gee” as I am a physician having spent more years at university and in training than you lawyers ever do. If my wife refuses to pay an outrageous bill for something that should be covered by warranty, I stand behind her.”
Continuing to use his first name, but in a far-less calming tone of voice, I replied, “This car has been out of warranty for a long time. Neither you nor your wife purchased an extended warranty and the dealership accomplished extensive repairs — many of them safety-related and which she signed for and agreed to pay upon completion.
“Your wife has stated that, as she is married to a brilliantly skilled physician, she should not have to pay for the repairs.”
It was clear that on the scale of people considering themselves entitled, Mrs. G — who insisted on being addressed as “Mrs. Doctor Gee” was at the top of the list. The dealership put her on the phone with me:
“Do you care about your husband’s reputation in the community if you are arrested for attempted theft of services? It is time to realize that everybody pays for car repairs and no one owes you a thing because of your husband’s position.”
A few minutes later, speaking with Dr. Gee, again using his name but in an increasingly urgent tone, I said, “Perhaps your wife’s overblown sense of entitlement works elsewhere, but it is plain wrong, as wrong for you to operate on a patient, save their life, and then not pay for your professional services.”
Preserving His Own Reputation
The key to a win-win outcome was in motivating Dr. G to understand that his reputation was minutes away from being tarnished by his wife.
“Now, this is not the first time that she has embarrassed you like this, refusing to pay for something she ordered. Right?”
“Yes, that’s true. But how can you know that, Mr. Beaver?”
“I’ve got a deal for you,” I said in a softened tone of voice. “You call me Dennis, I call you by your first name, and let’s talk about your life at home. You’ll see, I am a good listener.”
I am now speaking with a man who admits that he is so unhappy at home, trying to please a woman whose life is a whirlwind of never-ending dramas, “And there is nothing I can do that’s right! I am so afraid of the future, of what kinds of nightmares she will create next! Dennis, I am in a loveless, cold marriage and I’m afraid.”
And I heard him sob. It was so unexpected.
“Doc, here’s what we are going to do. You have your office manager go to your bank and obtain cash — not a cashier’s check because she could stop payment on it — bring it to my office and I will go to the dealership, pay them, and your wife will be given the keys to her car and drive off.”
And that is what we did. His office manager handed me an envelope filled with $100 bills, I drove to the dealership, was introduced to Mrs. G, paid her bill, and addressed her by her first name. But instead of thanking me for the help, she exclaimed, “How DARE you call me by my first name! To you, I am Mrs. Doctor G and don’t you ever forget it!”
By that time, both I and the service manager had enough of this arrogant woman who put her husband’s reputation at risk. It was time for “Mrs. Doctor G” to get an earful.
‘”Madame,” said the service manager, “you may have grown up when no one ever said ‘no’ to you. And so you became a selfish, self-centered, entitled monster caring only about yourself and willing to damage your husband’s good name as a physician.”
The moral of the story circles back to what Professor Vega said. When I persisted in using Dr. Gee’s first name, he stopped being defensive and felt safe enough to tell me his troubles. That circle of trust allowed me to negotiate a way out of the problem Mrs. Gee had created. The car dealership got the money it was owed, and Mrs. Gee wasn’t arrested (this time).
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.