One of the most basic rules of conversation can also be applied to learning people’s names: Be attentive and show interest in your counterpart. First and foremost this means being a good listener when others are telling you their names. You should look them in the face, preferably the eye. This is proven to help the brain better associate a name with a specific person, which helps you remember them. If you have a hard time understanding the person’s name, just ask. You can ask how to spell particularly complicated names, and even write down the name right after you’ve learned how it’s spelled. This gives you a visual for their name as well. Try to then repeat your counterpart’s name in the first few minutes of your conversation. Remembering a name is a sign of esteem and being able to say, “Hello, Mr. Ostermann. It’s so nice to see you again,” the next time you meet means you’ll be memorable to Mr. Ostermann as well.
Good to know: Our brains prefer images. Pictorial thinking works much more quickly than thinking in words. So use images and mnemonics to picture someone’s name. For example, if your co-worker’s name is “Baker,” just imagine them baking bread. Mnemonics are useful for many compound names: Mr. “Wormwood” might like finding worms in the woods. Someone named “Mulvaney” might like to mull things over on a weather vane. To remember other names you may like to use a rhyme: Mr. Barfield loves his cat, Garfield.
Your creativity is the only limit here.
Mnemonics or images are the first step to being able to remember names better. The more information you link to the name, the better you’ll be able to remember it. So be sure to show interest in your counterpart and acquire useful information about the person. For example, ask them about their hobbies or their favorite books. It may be Mr. Wormwood actually hates the outdoors and has never seen a worm in his life. And Ms. Sauer might actually like to bake sweet treats for her colleagues. In time, your counterpart will gain individuality in your mind and you’ll be able to remember their name and face better.
If you meet a large number of people in a short space of time – at a conference, for example – you might want to work on training your memory, even after you’ve met them. One way to train your memory is to use cards. You write one or two bullet points that characterize the person on one side. You write the person’s name and your creative link on the other. When you start a new job, for example, take a few minutes every day to look at your cards with the names of and reminders for your new acquaintances. If you want to go about it in a more modern way, you can ask people if you can save their details in your phone when you meet them. If you can get a photo as well, you won’t forget their name or face in a hurry.
If you still end up forgetting someone’s name even after using these tips and tricks, don’t worry – it’s something that happens to lots of people, especially when starting their careers. There are a number of ways to save the situation: Either with humor – you might say something like, “Sorry, my mind is just like a sieve for names” – or just be honest: kindly ask your counterpart for their name again. Remember: Make it clear that while you may have forgotten their name, you haven’t forgotten the person. If you can still recall that Mr. Wormwood hates the outdoors and prefers indoor pursuits, he probably won’t care that you’ve forgotten his name.
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