Tips for remembering names

May 19, 2022

4 minute read

The Tips

Tip #1

📝 When being introduced to everyone in an office, take the time to make a quick note in a notepad. Name + role.

  • 👹Fear: not making eye contact, being rude.
  • 😇 Reality: people really appreciate that you care enough about them to make the extra effort.

Tip #2

Use their name immediately.

“Hi Angela!”

Tip #3

Pair them mentally with someone you know with the same name, perhaps someone famous. Imagine them stood together.

Any kind of visual image that helps you jump from face to name no matter how silly.

Tip #4

Make an effort to get the pronunciation *precisely” right, especially with names from languages with sounds that don’t exist in your native tongue.

People appreciate that you actually want to get it right and it’s an excuse to repeat it lots while looking at their face.

Tip #5

Attempt use their name when you see them next.

Swallow your fear of looking like an idiot / being uncaring.

There’s nothing like the horror and embarrassment of being corrected bluntly to sear the right name into your reptilian brain.

I did this twice yesterday 🙊🙈, sorry!

Tip #6

Mentally rehearse and reinforce the name-to-face pairing both ways.

Name -> face (or distinguishing features)

Face -> Name + role + interests

Tip #7

Practice recall over time:

  • immediately (oh hi Ishmel)
  • In 5 mins (hmm so Heather is a coder from 1st floor)
  • 10 mins
  • half hour
  • 2 hours
  • 6 hrs
  • 1 day
  • 2 days
  • 4 days
  • 1 week
  • etc

Tip #8

Chat to them on teams / slack / email etc where the tech shows full names and hopefully profile pics too.

Tip #9

Try and recall, when you can’t then refer to your list of names from the office intros.

Tip #10

When a new name pops up add it to your physical notebook with a person symbol in the margin so you can scan for them.

Tip #11

Put them in your phone address book, use tags and notes to associate them with where you met them (neighbour, job at X, works at Y)

Tip #12

Take the time to rewrite your rough list of names into a tidier and organised list.

Tip #13

Go and coffee with them individually and learn about them, their history and what excites them.

It turns them into a human with depth and feelings in your brain instead of a lifeless fact to remember.

Tip #14

Ask the group in a meeting if they wouldn’t mind starting with a round of intros. (Or ask the meeting organiser / chair to include that.)

Make notes when they do. None of us can remember 15 names & faces in one go.

Don’t be afraid to interrupt if you miss one, it shows caring.

Tip #15

Use any excuse to use people’s names

  • when they are there
  • without them
  • with other
  • privately
  • verbally
  • in writing

Tip #16

Ignore your fear of getting their name wrong.

Better to try, fail and improve than to be stuck not knowing. Time heals all.

Tip #17

Don’t be afraid to screw up names more than once.

Most people can empathise and are also afraid.

Tip #18

Show empathy by repeating your own name to help them learn without fear.

Tip #19

Visibly lead by example by using names a lot with others - to help everyone learn new names.

Hopefully others will follow suit. (I’m not sure this actually works, let me know!)

Tip #20

Don’t be afraid to actually look directly at their face and the rest of them.

It’s hard to remember a face that you haven’t actually seen.

Sometimes there’s social dynamics that make it really hard to look someone in the face.

My journey to better

I too was terrified of this. I just quietly held the shame & failure of not knowing names I’d been told. Memory isn’t my forté.

One day I just thought why am I avoiding this, all I can do is try and be better. So from then on I resolved to put my fears aside and just do my best.

As a contract coder who has to learn 40+ new names on a regular basis this has been a huge improvement for me, and I continue to both fail and improve.

I have zero regrets for taking the risk and trying to be better, including the many many failures.

The best thing about deciding to try harder is that even if I utterly fail remembering someones name it’s really obvious that they really appreciate the fact that I’m trying, that I care enough about them to to want to know who they are and treat them as a real person, and that I take the time to learn more about them than just an email address.

I’ve accepted that my human brain only has limited ability and I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten hundreds, maybe thousands of names in my 22 years of work.

We all have these limitations to a greater or lesser extent, so when I fail I get empathy and usually a correction. Not one person has expressed annoyance with me.

I still value and honour my time with all those people, whether I remember names or not.

What about you?

How do you approach remembering names?

Do you risk it or do you avoid it altogether?

What tips and experiences can you share?

Sleepless nights

This post started as a series of tweets when I woke up in the small hours thinking about it. Do add your thoughts there if you’re a twitter kinda person.


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