Flashing the badge at conferences

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

One of the more mortifying moments of attending a recent conference was when I went up to a participant and asked to interview her. She nicely reminded me that I had interviewed her 10 minutes before.

There are two key pieces of information here that you should know: One, I have terrible facial recognition. Two, the woman wasn't wearing her conference badge.

To be clear, I don't have prosopagnosia, or the medical condition where you cannot recognize faces. As described beautifully in Heather Sellers memoir “You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know,” people with this condition can't recognize their husbands, children or coworkers. I can identify all of those people. 

But if you are a long-term care provider I've met before, and start talking to me sans badge, I will often keep chatting with you until you give me identifying facts. It's a nightmare when casual acquaintances put on glasses, change their hair color, or wear a hat. They may as well have put a bag over their head. 

When I can see your name, my brain flips to the Rolodex with that label, and I can generally pull up relevant information, such as a conversation we had about your trip to South Africa, or the name of your dog. (I'm better with dog/cat names than children, but to be fair, many of you gave better names to your pets than your progeny).

My inability to do a good job recognizing faces is something that I only realized as an adult, when I'd say to my husband, “Doesn't Jane look like Tina Fey?” And he'd say, “no, not really. Not at all, actually.”

When you put on your badge, also think about where you are placing it. One experienced conference attendee told me recently that the ideal place to wear a badge is on your right label, roughly right below your neck. This is because, as you shake someone's hand, they can look straight at your badge and name without being indiscreet that they have no idea who you are. The problem with lanyards, especially for women, is that the badge often drops into an area that is, say, not at the neck level. A few men I've spoken with have cringed when they realized looking at a lady's name also caused them to look like a lecherous creeper.

I commend organizations that have made the first name in a much larger font than other details, such as last name or affiliation. This allows those of us with poor eyesight to say, “Rose, of course, what a pleasure,” even if we can't remember your facility.

The name/badge issue also goes beyond large (or small) conferences. There's a reason why long-term care employees should always have their badge displayed in a way that is visible. One, there is a safety issue for who should be in rooms, units or a long-term care building, and many times the badge is tied to access. Second, residents should be able to know who is taking care of them, and be able to compliment or complain based on a name. If you are in a leadership position, remind employees to not wear a badge under their shirt or jacket, or on a belt buckle. (I've seen all of this.) It is your responsibility to lead by example, and not assume everyone knows who you are.

Finally, if our paths cross and I don't recognize you, please don't take it personally. Re-introduce yourself, and then we can talk about your dog.

Elizabeth Newman is the Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.