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”