Some people are able to casually acknowledge that they are horrible with names and not generate any stress related to this truth. I’m not one of those people!
Historically, I’ve been pretty good with names and faces. I’ve considered this a strength of mine. As I found myself facing situations where this became challenging, I would do little things to help myself. For example, during a company wide meeting, I would go down the rows of people and name each person. If I couldn’t I would figure out who they were and repeat their name a few times or make an effort to have lunch, etc. Why was this so important to me? The best that I can explain is that I just didn’t want to be viewed as an executive that didn’t bother to know people.
This was sometimes challenging but very doable with my former companies. However, this is not doable in large organizations nor in the situation that I now must face and accept. For the past couple of years, the number of people that approach me at a conference, etc, that I have no idea who they are, is growing. Typically, they attended one of my conference sessions or we met briefly a year or two ago. I’m grateful for conference name badges but I still find myself being disappointed that I can’t remember them. I fully realize how unrealistic this is. On average, I speak about 5 times a year with attendees ranging from 30 – 500 people (this doesn’t even count trainings).
Why do I speak and give trainings…to make a difference for people. To help them have that aha moment, to support them and to inspire them. So I’m honored and happy that I stand out to attendees, it means I’m achieving my purpose. Yet, when I stand out to someone and I don’t remember them, I feel like I am hurting that purpose. That I’m being dismissive. That I’m indicating that I’m more important. That I don’t want to know them.
I tried my normal tricks of writing something about that person on the back of their card but the volume is just too big now for me to remember. I’m instead finding the rule that I have to have interacted more than once with you and for an extended period of time to truly have your name and face completely stick.
Personally, I try to give other people an out when I don’t expect them to remember: “I don’t expect you to remember, but my name is Tricia. We met at…” I try to give context of where we met so that they can choose how to engage. Yet, I’m finding this to be slightly offensive to people in that most times I hear “of course I remember” which maybe is true but maybe seems insulting that I don’t expect them to remember.
Someone offered “nice to see you” as an option when approached with “Hi Tricia”. This doesn’t indicate if they are seeing you for the first time or not. Yet, I then have no context to engage in the conversation and find myself feeling very fake, which causes way more anxiety than forgetting a name.
If I respond in the “I don’t believe we have met.” and we have, people are quick to call me out on that. So much, that I try very hard to not say this statement any more.
So instead, I’ve been going the honest route of “I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name or where/if we met”. So far people have been very generous and kind in response but I still hate how I feel. Now I have yet to have someone act like my fears are true. I’m hoping that is because my behavior is inviting regardless of the starting point. Yet that fear remains present and causes me quite a bit of anxiety.
What techniques do you use to remember names? How do you handle responding when you can’t?