Interpersonal Communication 101: Remembering a Name
Posted by Anni M.
Over the course of my career, I’ve written for a wide variety of publications, from technology blogs to soup cans to academic journals. A few years ago I was hired to write an article for a communications journal. The article was about interpersonal communication in business interactions. There are hundreds of ways we can all improve our communication: firm handshakes, small talk, listening, mastering introductions, and courtesy words, to name a few. But the lesson I found myself applying most often was perhaps the simplest of all: always memorize names.
Sometimes the most obvious lesson is the easiest to ignore. I spent years relying on rote memory when I met new people and my rote memory was constantly failing me. It’s not that I didn’t try—I repeated a name once I heard it—but I don’t have a terribly good memory for them. I was constantly asking my co-worker one cubicle over to remind me of names, and she was happy to do it. Unfortunately, she enabled my name blindness for far too long. When I switched companies sans Alicia (my name genius co-worker) I saw my disability in a new light. It was clear I needed to work harder at remembering names.
I started out by writing names down but that had an obvious flaw: the names were disembodied words separated from their owners. My real problem lay in my inability to connect the name to the person, not in my inability to remember the word itself. So I started drawing pictures or writing little summaries of physical characteristics next to the names. This worked well when I was only meeting one or two people, but for larger groups, it was impractical. I dreaded the moments when I’d be introduced to large groups. The round-table name rattle-off was a thing of nightmares.
Then I started creating seating charts in my notes. Any time I’d enter a room full of new people I’d sketch a quick diagram of the table. I also started making word associations in my head: Bob, beard; Steve, Mcqueen hair; Caroline, carrot orange sweater. I tried to make the associations as quickly as possible—I found the faster I made them, the better they stuck. But I was careful not to make them too complex (see the comic above).
The word associations alongside the diagrams worked wonders: I remembered every name and where everyone sat. I think using spatial memory along with verbal memory was what did it. A single style wasn’t enough. You know how you learn best. Use techniques that play to your strengths to remember the names in your life. It demonstrates your seriousness, mental organization, and dedication to forming relationships: all invaluable in business communication.
As a Creative Communications Strategist, Victoria is known for her electrifying Keynote Performances™ and the transformational workshops and coaching sessions she creates for elite executives, high performing teams, thought leaders and entrepreneurs..