Why Do We Forget People’s Names?
How many times have you been introduced to someone only to forget his name as soon as you have shaken hands? Most of the time, we “forget” names because we never stored them properly to begin with, not because we cannot recall them.
A normal introduction goes something like this:
“Hi, my name is Tom Smith,” returned with, “Nice to meet you. I’m Greg Matthews.” There’s nothing difficult about the names Tom and Greg, but the problem is that, while Greg is giving his name, Tom is thinking about what he is going to say next. The name is not set to memory, and Tom leaves the meeting having no idea of who he just met.
In addition to being frustrating and embarrassing, forgetting names can end up costing you in your professional life.
Business referrals, clients, customers, and patients all want to feel significant. When you take the extra care to notice and remember a person, calling him or her by name, you are showing that they matter to you. This also gives you an edge over your competition.
In the first of a two part series, let’s look at five tricks to better remember names.
How Do You Remember Names?
1. Pay attention
Obvious, right? You’d be amazed at how little attention we pay to the person we are meeting. Be present in the moment and listen when your new acquaintance says her name. Clear your mind and focus on her – not on what you’re going to say next.
2. Repeat the new name. Say it right back to the person
John: Hi, my name is John. You: John, nice to meet you.
Then, try to use the name two more times before parting. An excellent way to commit a name to memory is to introduce the person to one or two others.
3. Ask for the spelling
If the name is not familiar to you – foreign or otherwise unique – get its spelling to reinforce your understanding and to confirm you have heard the name correctly.
Many people are hesitant about asking for the spelling or just asking the person to say his name again. Don’t be. People like it when you take an interest in them, and they’re happy to repeat their name if it means you’re actually going to remember it (and use it in the future).
Some people have heavy accents, and some have really unusual names. These people often have their names forgotten or mistaken. Imagine the impression you’ll make when you take the time to truly understand their name, get the pronunciation correct and remember it.
4. Pick out distinctive features
When you meet someone, spend time looking at their face, and pick out a distinctive feature. Notice a crooked nose, puppy dog eyes, a cleft chin, big ears, yellow teeth etc. If possible, pick out the feature before you’re introduced so you’re not struggling to find one while the person is giving you his name.
When you focus on the particular feature, your brain naturally associates it with the name. This will take a little time, so begin by studying people on the street, in restaurants, on the subway etc. With practice you will train your brain to automatically pick out the outstanding feature of each face.
Note: Make sure you use permanent features and stay away from things like hair color, glasses, braces and things that may change over time.
5. Associate the name with a famous person
Another way to remember names is to associate them with famous people. If you meet Al, think of Al Capone, the Chicago mob boss. If you meet Jennifer, think of Jennifer Aniston. But don’t stop there. In order for the name to stick, you need to associate it with an action.
Picture your new client, Jennifer, sitting on the coffee house couch with Ross (from the T.V. show Friends). She goes to take a sip of her coffee when it slips out of her hand and spills all over Ross’s new white pants. Make the picture as vivid as possible.(Smell the aroma from the coffee, and see the steam coming out of the cup. Picture a huge brown coffee stain on Ross’s pants.) Now each time you see Jennifer, you’ll recall the image and her name.
Start using these techniques one or two at a time until you begin to do them automatically. I saw a huge improvement from day one – of course that’s coming from someone who could barely remember her own name at the time.
In part 2, I’ll introduce the technique that super glues a name to your memory: The Ultimate Trick To Remembering Names.