Many of us have trouble associating names and faces, especially when we're meeting lots of new people at once. Conferences, visits to remote sites, new jobs and assuming responsibility for new organizations are situations likely to surface this problem.
One helpful technique for remembering names is the mnemonic. A mnemonic is a device for associating two concepts. For those who have difficulty remembering what a mnemonic is, here's a mnemonic for "mnemonic:" Memorization's Not Easy; Memory Often Needs Initial Cues.
As another example, how do you remember which way to change the clock when going on or off Daylight Savings Time? Many of us use the mnemonic "Spring Forward, Fall Back." Of course, this doesn't work for Australians. They do change the clock the same way for the same seasons, but Australians call Fall Autumn, and "Spring forward, Autumn back" just doesn't work.
To remember the name of someone you're meeting for the first time, anchor the name using the RUMM method: Repeat, Use, and Make a Mnemonic.To remember the name
of someone you just met,
repeat it, use it, and
make a mnemonic
- Respond to the name with "Hello, Bill" (taking care to substitute the person's actual name for "Bill").
- Say something to the person immediately, using the name you just learned: "Bill, you're working on Metronome, as I recall. Was that your team that saved our necks last month?"
- Make a Mnemonic
- Create a visual or auditory image that connects the person's face to the name. Imagine Bill, for example, in a Donald Duck outfit, complete with yellow bill.
Here are some other techniques that will help people in your organization remember each other's names better.
- Create an intranet album
- Create a photo album for your department and post it on your company's intranet. If you aren't in a position to create a department photo album, create a personal Web site and put your own photo there. If you can't do that, tack a photo of yourself on your door. See "Make a Project Family Album," Point Lookout for May 2, 2001.
- Use the names of people you know
- Too many of us avoid using names, even when we're sure of them. Make a point of using the names of people you know. If we all did this, we'd have a better chance of overhearing the names of people we're less sure of.
- Practice recovering from mistakes
- Fear of using the wrong name, or mispronouncing the right one, are two reasons why we don't use people's names. Look upon uncertainty as an opportunity to practice recovering from mistakes, and to graciously ask forgiveness. See "Demanding Forgiveness," Point Lookout for June 18, 2003.
- Introduce yourself
- When you meet someone you don't recognize, introduce yourself. Sometimes we avoid this kind of introduction out of fear that we've met before. See "Practice mistakes" above.
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
- Thanks for the weekly Point Lookout — it always provides an insightful and interesting read.
- Your story of the forgotten names reminded me of a trick used by a friend of mine. He asks "How do you pronounce your family name?" This usually works, especially in Asia (I'm based in Beijing) but recently when he asked the question he received a puzzled look and the reply "I pronounce my family name as Smith."
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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