You know how important our names are to us, don’t you? How good are you at remembering other people’s names? Skill or struggle? What if it were easy?
How well are you able to remember other people’s names? Is this something you admit to struggle with or is this one of your known strengths? Is this a skill we are born with or is it like a muscle that we can strengthen? Are you aware of how important somebody’s name is to them and their identity? How strongly you edify them through the remembered and repeated use of their name? How easily you can “lose” them by forgetting it or getting it wrong?
When will you stop saying: “I struggle remembering names”?
There are many techniques and there is much written about this topic that you can read up on the web. We are all different and we all learn differently, so I urge you to invest some time in reading or watching the many techniques you will find so as to find the ones that resonate most with you, so that you can make up your own.
After “I don’t really know what I want”, “I can’t remember names” is one of the most frequent things coaches hear from our clients. May I urge you at the outset that this negative language is “verboten”? It is banned from now on, OK? I would like to you to make a pledge to yourself that you will never use that negative but self-fulfilling prophecy language again. Just the repeated use of those words in the past will have strongly contributed to this perception you have so successfully taught yourself.
It is time to replace that old “mantra” with a new one. Perhaps something like: “every day I am getting better and better at remembering people’s names.” If you perceive yourself not to be much of a “people person”, then you might want to start by making a conscious choice (even set a goal) to become more interested in other people?
Want a great example?
This week I had the privilege of meeting and being extremely inspired by the passion and eccentricity of Swedish entrepreneur, Anders Larsen. He told the story of a very visible and well known CEO of a global US software giant he had met many years back. About a year after their first meeting this CEO saw him at a conference and walked over to him, immediately addressing him by name and asking how he was and how his daughter was doing in her uni degree. Now this man probably meets thousands of people all over the world every year. How on earth could he remember this detail so much later? Impressive, isn’t it?
Well firstly, anyone that meets Anders Larsen will know they have met someone that leaves an impression. So of course it helps people remember you if you find a few ways of standing out from the crowd of “grey people” all around us. Having developed our Presence will help. However, there is another important factor at play here, namely that we make a (business) decision that we want to be interested in other people. Not everyone is born that way. But it is certainly a conscious choice we can make to develop some skills – what I call “people skills”. You may also want to remind yourself of some of these in what I wrote in Interested or Interesting?.
Leadership – where remembering names matters
In the leadership context I am amazed how often managers or leaders miss out on an opportunity to praise or acknowledge or recognize somebody, which includes confidently remembering their name. Every person who is considered a “good leader” will know how important it is to have a personal interest and personal contact with the people you lead. Even if you lead a large organization of people. Those that consider this aspect of their people skills and their leadership skills important will make an effort to get to know their people and to at least know them by name, if not get to know a few additional things about their background, their role and their strengths. I don’t allow any excuses here; after all most senior leaders have a exec assistant that is able to prepare for any impending meeting and remind the leader of some details of who they will be meeting with.
And to me the same is just as important when you are going out to be with key stakeholders or customers. Surely this level of “homework” isn’t asking too much?
So what I’m suggesting here is that before we get into any techniques that it is incumbent upon you to have made some decisions or choices about the importance you place on your relationship with those you lead or serve, OK? If we can square that away, let’s talk technique.
Would a few techniques help?
A few techniques that I have learned over the years are really very simple:
Remember above I spoke about using affirmations to convert your negative perception into a positive belief? Here’s another reminder: “I keep getting better and better at remembering names”. Work in progress, right?
Choosing not to be self-conscious is another great place to start. Stop worrying about yourself or what the others might be thinking of you. They aren’t. Why? Because chances are they are too busy worrying about what you are thinking of them… We forget names because we are too busily focused on ourselves and our fears. Shut that out when you are for instance at a network event. Allow yourself to focus completely on the person or people you are meeting. Practice Awareness. Take your eyes off yourself and put them on those you are speaking to. Please practice what I wrote in Are you listening?
I like to try and hear the person’s name a number of times in the first few minutes of meeting them. “Hello Murugadass, it’s a pleasure to meet you. (1) That’s an unusual name. Have I pronounced that correctly – Murugadass? (2) How do you spell that please? M-u-r-u-g-a-d-a-s-s, right? (3). Thank them for their help when they do. What is it’s origin? If they give you some background it will help you in the association.
It may also help building rapport if you were to add: “wow, I’m sure you must have heard some pretty interesting pronunciations?”
NLP suggests that you might also detect a pattern in that spelling that will help you remember. For instance, I remember telephone numbers in 3’s: xxx space xxx space xxx. So this name would be Muru – ga – dass.
In this case he then also offered that I should just call him “Dass”, an abbreviation he (and I) found to be much easier for “Westerner” use.
Try to associate the name (or the description of its origin) with something you can anchor that name to. Perhaps the person has an idiosyncrasy you will remember – like a twitch of an eyebrow or a particular nose or the name reminds you of a famous actor or someone else you know – whatever comes up for you. After I have received the person’s business card I like to write these things down on the back of the card – but please do that later – never in front of them as that can be considered “defacing” their card.
In the above example, the last syllable is –dass – which I was able to associate with the African animal called a “dassie” a kind of mountain rabbit. This person is as wily as this animal, so it was an easy connection.
Some people also form some form of rhyme or associate a picture with the name or the person idiosyncrasy. That doesn’t work for me, but it may be useful for you – whatever works, right?
· Introduce them
If I’m at a networking event and another person joins us, I’ll make a point of introducing Dass to the newcomer, after I have learned their name. That’s now the 4th or 5th time I’ve been able to repeat his name in the short time since I’ve met him.
None of these has been any form of rocket science, has it? To me the one fundamental that is required is to have an interest in other people which automatically assures an appreciation how important it is to get to know their name and to remember it. With that attitude you will find the techniques that work for you and soon you’ll confidently say to others when the topic comes up that you find it easy to remember people’s names.
Helping someone that’s forgotten…
I’d like to outline another important situation that can occur: Let’s say I’m walking with Mark, a client or a manager and we come across someone I know. I don’t know whether Mark knows the other person’s name or not. In a people skills sense, I feel it is my responsibility to be sure each isn’t exposed to not knowing the other’s name, so I’ll say to the approaching chap loudly enough for Mark to hear: “Hello Peter, how are you?” And then I’ll add, for the latter’s benefit: “you remember Mark, don’t you?” Whether Mark or Peter did or didn’t know the other’s name doesn’t matter, I made sure there was no opportunity for any awkward moment. Everyone was “safe”. It’s so easy. All it takes is some presence of mind to facilitate. Awareness – it’s part and parcel of good people skills.
And if you do forget…
Of course, despite all the techniques etc, we all still forget people’s names from time to time, don’t we? That’s life. My recommendation is that you don’t panic or stress, but that you rather take it lightly and apply some humour to relieve the situation. A sincere but humorous quip like: “oh, oh I’m in trouble – I know I should know your name, but I’m afraid it’s completely slipped my mind…” or perhaps something like: “mate, I’m having a senior moment here, please help me remember your name…”. The key? A beaming and disarming smile and a demeanour that can only but attract a forgiving smile back. It’s in the momentary lightness in your behaviour that this forgiveness is likely to happen.
However, here comes the however… you won’t (and neither should you) be let off the hook again a second time without consequences to the relationship.
So do you feel a little more comfortable about how you can overcome this age old perception that it is hard to remember other people’s names? If this perception is still true for you, now that we have your attention on it, are you willing to have a go in order overcome it?
What if you made a commitment to yourself that this is an important people skill for you to master for the necessities of your business relationship success? What if you set a goal to make it one of your strengths?
What if you wrote to me in 3 months’ time and proudly shared with me how well you are now able to remember people’s names because you made a conscious choice to?
What if you could?
Melinda Clark says
Thanks Heiner, its nice to know i’m not alone in trying to remember names, i’ll try your techniques. David Clark