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Hosted by Tom Henschel

Remembering Names


May 2006

Dale Carnegie wrote we all have a favorite word: our name. We feel positively about someone who hears our name for the first time and uses it back. The five action steps here will boost your ability to remember names.

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May 2006

Remembering Names

Tom Henschel

“I never remember people’s names!” I’ve heard this lament from six different people in the last month alone. If this is a struggle of yours, here are five actions that will put you on a path to success.

First, adopt the belief Dale Carnegie wrote about in the granddaddy of all self-help books, How To Win Friends and Influence People. Everyone in the world, he said, has one word that is most special to them: their name.

If you adopt this belief, remembering names becomes more than just a courtesy; it becomes a way to display your core values and a way to bestow honor and respect on the other person.

Second, listen to your self-talk. What do you say to yourself about your difficulty with names? “I just can’t remember names.” Or “I’m terrible at remembering names.” Or “The instant someone says their name I’ve already forgotten it.” All self-fulfilling prophecies with no room for improvement. No wonder you’re not doing well!

Instead, give yourself permission to get better. How about this: “I’m working hard to get better at remembering names.” Or, “Remembering names is really important to me and I’m making improvement.” Those statements allow you to grow incrementally. Make them yours.

Third, be prepared. It’s pretty rare that someone just blurts out his or her name unexpectedly. You can usually tell when you’re about to hear someone’s name. Since you have now adopted the belief that capturing names shows honor and respect, be prepared to receive the name. Focus. Eliminate distractions. Really listen. Put your full attention on the person.

When someone is about to say their name to me, I imagine that a giant catcher’s mitt of white feathers covers my entire mid-section. As they speak, I picture their name in big block letters floating into the mitt where I cradle it. Safe landing! Now it’s imprinted and in my care. Creating your own specific image for the moment of name-saying will help slow the moment down so you can gain control over it.

Fourth, say the person’s name back to them in conversation as soon as you can. When a woman says, “I’m Jill,” say, “Nice to meet you, Jill.” In addition, use her name again as soon as possible in the next minute or two. This helps cement her name in your head.

Finally, if you’re going to take responsibility for remembering names, you need to take full responsibility. This means when one slips from your grasp, own up to it and fix it. If remembering names is really important to you (Step One) and if you’re really working to get better (Step Two) then it’s not at all embarrassing to simply say, “I’m sorry, will you tell me your name again?” Don’t get mired in your own thoughts and reactions about missing the name: focus. Taking ownership in this way shows that the person’s name really is important to you; it’s a way of honoring them.

The five steps to success are:

  1. Believe that remembering names is really important.
  2. Tell yourself you’re getting better a little bit at a time.
  3. Be prepared when someone says his or her name to you. Focus.
  4. Say the person’s name out loud as soon as you can. More than once.
  5. Take responsibility without shame. If you don’t catch a name, or have forgotten it, ask for it again.

This skill is transformative. It’s worth the effort. Let me know how it goes for you!

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