Relations, Workplace

Why Is It Difficult to Remember Names?

A few years ago, I was invited by a salesperson to go with her to visit a prospect. Once the introduction, hand-shaking, and business card exchange were completed, everybody sat down. I saw the executive of the prospective client put our business cards neatly in front of him. During the meeting, I noticed that he peeked at the cards before addressing one of us. What an ingenious way to make sure that he would not call someone with the wrong name, I thought.

Let’s be honest: who never once forgot the name of the person to whom they have just been introduced?

There are at least two reasons why that happens.

We simply are not interested enough in the person. This is often the case when are simply making polite conversation with someone that we don’t believe we will see again. Or when the person we are seeing is taking someone who we did not expect to the meeting. We came to meet Wayne the purchasing manager, and not Penny his staff. Naturally, most of our attention is paid to Wayne. In that situation, we might forget her name.

We often don’t realize the great effort it takes to remember names. Our brain has many functions that it must fulfill at all times other than memorizing. With so much going on, hearing a name once is not enough for the brain to remember. This is especially true when we are making conversation with someone we just met. Our mind is so focused on finding interesting facts to say, paying attention to the person’s reaction, and reacting to what they say, we neglect to submit their name to memory.

Therefore, we need to make a conscious effort to make the name stick. Some ideas:

Ask how it is spelled. This is useful when the name is not familiar, or when there are alternative spellings to it. My name, for example, can be spelled with a v or a ph. This can help you put greater attention to the name, and make the other person feel they are important to you.

Repeat their name by using it during the conversation. This helps you commit the name to long-term memory. For example,

  • “So Mike, how long have you been with the organization?”
  • “I see where you are coming from, Mike.”
  • “That reminds of of a story, Mike. Two days ago I went to see my doctor…”

Saying their name also increases their attention to you.

Please remember that you don’t have to use their name in every sentence. That will sound superficial and make them uncomfortable.

Associate the name to the face. We often remember faces better than names. To help your brain tie the two together, turn the name into an image that you can associate with the person’s face. To make it stands out, exaggerate it. For example, let’s say you met a person whose name is Brad. Brad sounds similar to bread. So to stick the name to the face, imagine Brad is eating a huge loaf of bread. The next time you see Brad, that image will pop up in your mind and you can quickly remember his name.

The next time we meet a new person, let’s give them the attention they deserve!

” A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

In English, Workplace

I don’t have time to hang out. How do I maintain a working relationship without looking like a leech?

You’ve probably met a ‘leech’ at work. Somebody who is nice to you and will talk to you only when they need something from you. Some call them fair-weather friends. Some others went as far as calling them ‘parasites’ because they are the only ones benefiting from a relationship.

To be honest, most people don’t want to be a leech. At least not on purpose. On the other hand, with so many things to do and so little time to socialize, you cannot escape the fact that there are people who you will only talk to when you need something from them.

So how can you stay on good terms with people who you rarely talk to?

1. When you interact with them, ask questions to get to know them. You can use a lot of topics to start a conversation. Let’s say you are discussing a project with a colleague and you see some pictures of kids on his desk. Ask him about the kids in the photos. Are they his children? How old are they? What are their names? What do they like?

Let’s say she’s just back from a two-week holiday. Invite her to talk about it. How was their vacation? Where did they go? Anything fun? Or, you can ask work-related questions. How are they doing with their projects? How are they progressing?

2. Follow up on what you learned about them. For example,

  • When you went to Claire for her help, you got to talking and you learned she had kids in high school. The next time you see her in the pantry, you can ask about how her kids are holding up in last exams.
  • Bob is a proud owner of a daschund. You know this because there are pictures of Sparky, his dog, everywhere in his cubicle, and because he spent 10 minutes telling you about Sparky’s favorite food. At the next meeting with him, you can bring a treat for Sparky.
  • Matt is fan of running. He’s been in more races than you can count on all fingers and toes of yours and of your family’s combined. When you see a friend posted about a running event on his social media, you can ask Matt about it. “Hey Matt, my friend signed up for this race. Have you heard about it?”

Maybe all the time you have to interact with your co-workers is only during work hours, and only work-related. Make that little time count. Ask questions, and be interested in their lives. In turn, they will be interested in you.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”