You’re meeting someone for the first time. She extends her hand, tells you her name, and then you do the same. Caught up in thinking about what to say next, you don’t register what she said her name is. Was it Allie? Or Ellie? Or something totally different? You leave the conversation with absolutely no idea of what your new acquaintance’s name is.
But what’s in a name? In business, a lot. Names are deeply personal and inextricably linked to a person’s identity. If you can’t remember someone’s, it conveys that you don’t care about your relationship with him or her. That being said, forgetting names is an incredibly common problem. Keep these things in mind the next time you’re introduced to someone:
Repeat, repeat, repeat. When someone first tells you their name, try to repeat it to yourself silently while they speak. Then find natural ways to repeat it aloud throughout the conversation. For example: “So what role do you have at your company, Allie?” But don’t go overboard. If you’re constantly repeating their name, things can get very creepy very quickly.
Make associations. Always find something else to connect their name to. If they have a distinctive feature of some kind, try to remember them as “Trevor with the wide smile” or “Lauren with the pixie cut.” If you’re really feeling creative, try to come up with ridiculous and vivid mental impressions that incorporate other details. For example, if you meet Bob Green, picturing him bobbing for green apples. If Lana Potter lived in France for a few years, picture her making pottery at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Ask for tricky pronunciations and spellings. If someone’s name is particularly difficult to pronounce or sounds like it might be challenging to spell, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat the pronunciation or write it down for you. This shows that you care enough to get their name right, and it also gives you a chance to see/hear the name again if you’ve forgotten it already.
Don’t shorten names without being told to. If someone tells you his name is William, his name is William, not Will or Bill. If someone tells you her name is Catherine, her name is Catherine, not Cat or Cate. And NEVER come up with a nickname for someone you’ve just met. Your new acquaintance probably doesn’t want to be called L-Dawg or Chubs by a virtual stranger.
Never misspell a name. In a world with Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, there’s no excuse for misspelling someone’s name.
When in doubt, don’t guess. It’s better to be generic than to call Jessica “Jennifer.”
Learn additional names of important people. Once you’ve become a name-memorizing expert, take the time to learn the names of people who are close to your new friend or coworker. “How are Dylan and Gabe?” shows a lot more thoughtfulness than “How are your kids?”
Go in focused. The key to remembering someone’s name is staying focused on getting it correct right away and caring enough to memorize it. Instead of worrying what you’ll say during your introduction, make getting to know the other person the primary goal of the conversation. And once you’re done speaking with them, make a note or new contact in your phone with their name and whatever details you gathered and associations you developed.
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