Trouble Remembering Names? Here’s a Fool Proof Plan

puzzled look female

Dale Carnegie said it best: “a person’s name, to that person, is the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”  Think about how you’ve felt when an acquaintance or customer service rep has remembered your name.  Pretty flattered, right?

While I couldn’t find a consistent statistic, it’s not uncommon to forget a person’s name within 10 seconds of being introduced.  This can be a barrier to effective networking, especially if you avoid approaching or introducing others because you’ve forgotten their names.

  • An overwhelming opinion is we forget names because we’re not paying attention.  Although I don’t fully agree with this theory, I’ve tried several tricks, none of which have helped, especially when meeting many new people at once.  Here’s an abbreviated summary of techniques:
  • Focus on their eye color because this causes you to pay attention when meeting someone new. Of course, in low light it also causes you to stare unnervingly at people.
  • Use a mnemonic device.  Here’s an actual example I found in an article:  “If somebody’s last name is Hefty and you notice they’re left-handed, you could remember lefty Hefty.   I think remembering the name would actually be easier.  Also, this one can backfire.  Have you ever met someone who reminded you of someone else and constantly wanted to call him by that other person’s name.
  • Use repetition when meeting someone new.  Example:

o   ME:  Hi, my name is Dawn.

o   HIM: Dawn? Nice to meet you Dawn.  I’m John, Dawn.  What do you do, Dawn?

o   ME: Um, I need to refill my drink.

Other articles have recommended memory exercises, but research shows that poor memory isn’t the issue.In fact, we often remember specific details about new acquaintances.

The best explanation I’ve read for why people don’t remember names is because they’re arbitrary and offer few clues to who we really are (unless you’re a lefty, named Hefty).  It’s more meaningful to hear someone’s profession, cultural or educational background, or assess their appearance. These things give us a glimpse into someone’s personality.

A theory I have is that when we’re meeting new people, we’re often so focused on ourselves and the first impression we’re making, we don’t register the name of the person we’re meeting.  There is too much clutter going on in our minds (e.g., Do I have food in my teeth??) to fully process what the other person is saying.   

Does this mean you don’t care?  I might argue the opposite.  You care enough to want to make a positive impression. 

So, what is the magic solution?   Simply ask.  I’m sorry, can you please tell me your name again?”   This demonstrates two important things that will help to build connections when you‘re networking: 1) you’re human, and 2) you care.  

Carnegie had a great point in his assertion about names and it’s worth the investment to do our best to remember.  However, there are more tragic situations in networking than forgetting.  And, chances are, the new Accountant that you just met has also forgotten your name and will be grateful you opened the door to reintroduce yourselves.  With any luck, his name will be Mr. Bean.

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