Saturday, 17 August 2013

Five ways to remember people's names

Remembering the name of every person you encounter may be challenging, but worthwhile in the long run. I recently had an experience at work that emphasized the power of remembering a person’s name.

Now I’ll be honest, I hadn’t actually remembered her name, but rather I’d just overheard her introduce herself to someone else. True, I had met this person before, but I did not have the faintest idea what her name was. Then when I went to speak to her, using her name, she was really pleased and said “You’ve got a good memory!” She was then really receptive to what I needed to discuss with her, and eager to be cooperative.

This incident really struck a chord with me, as my accidental “recollection” of her name was really important to her. She didn’t know I had forgotten it and only accidentally overheard it; and I wasn’t going to correct her as that would have served no useful purpose. People care about themselves, and there is no sweeter sound to a person than the sound of their own name.

Think about it, when you hear your name, your ears prick up, you pay attention, you look around to see who it is that  wants to speak to you. This one word is so important to each individual, yet actually being able to remember names is hard. Perhaps that is why people who can recall names easily get so much further in the workplace, in business dealings and in social gatherings, than those of us who lack such recall for names.

So how can we remember names? If it was easy everyone could do it. Here are a few strategies I’ve discovered to try to remember people’s names.

1.  Listen

You are never going to remember anyone’s name if you are not listening for it. When being introduced to someone, listen for their name and if you don’t catch it ask for the name to be repeated.

2. Observe the details

Look at the person closely to identify distinguishing features. Observe facial expressions; listen to how they talk and whether they display any defining mannerisms.

3. Repeat it

If you don’t use it, you will forget it! Use a person’s name a few times during your initial conversation; just be careful not to overdo it.

4. Associate the person’s name with what they do

This technique is particularly effective if the person’s name and occupation are highly appropriate, completely mismatched or humorous in some way. For example when you meet a doctor who is a Dr Love,  Dr Feelgood or Dr Death; it is going to be very easy to remember their name and face. Yvonne Stitch who is a dressmaker, Brad Tyler who is a tiler, James Makepeace who is a diplomat; are all examples of names strongly associated with what the person does, and consequently easier to remember. Clare Tall, who is 5ft, Nathan Stick, who is a beefy lad and Sally Green who is a red head all have mismatched names to their features. These contrasts provide a means for the brain to associate the person’s name to their face.

5. Create a mental image to associate with a person and their name

How often have you thought, “I know the face, I just can’t recall the name?” Our brain is better at remembering visual information, rather than verbal or written information. Creating a mental image of a person’s name helps to overcome this, and consequently this method is likely to be most effective for recalling names over a long time period. This “mind picture” method was described by Dale Carnegie, author of the ground-breaking “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, and several other personal development books. The “mind picture” technique involves associating an image that sounds like the person’s name, combined with some other detail about them.  The more ridiculous the image you create the better, as your mind is more capable of recalling names if the person’s face is associated with vivid image you have created in your mind.

Consider the following examples below:

- To remember Jason Deer who likes to drink a lot, you could associate his name with an image of a mason with a deer holding a beer. A mason sounds like “Jason” a deer is, a deer and including beer in this image helps to remember the drinking aspect of his personality.
To remember Samantha Fisher who owns Labradors, you could associate her name with an image of  Labrador holding a fish in its mouth being chased by a panther. Here we have a “panther” which rhymes with “Samantha”, the Labrador in the image helps to recall something defining about her and the fish in the dog’s mouth provides a visual link to the name “Fisher”.

The beauty of this method is that there is no right or wrong way to create the mind images; it is whatever you can come up with in your mind to help you remember that person’s name.

After my experience at work, I am going to try to remember people’s names more often. It is easy to think I have remembered someone’s name, only to find I am struggling a day, or a week, or a month later to recall it.  I’ve never had such a positive initial reaction from a person before; and if remembering names is what it takes to get this response, then I am going to give it a go!

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