“My brain’s memory hasn’t been upgraded since I was 18. I’m still running on 32MB of space.” That’s what I tell my friends whenever we’re having a discussion about why it is I have an exceptionally bad memory when it comes to names and faces. And while I may say it in jest, this is a failing that I find genuinely worrying.
You see, I work in a job which is highly dependent on networking and making new contacts. I meet new people every week, and within each meeting lies the possibility of a new collaboration or business opportunity.
So you can imagine what kind of impression I’d be creating each and every time I have zero recollection of meeting a contact I was supposed to have met on a previous occasion. Worse still is when I have to meet a bunch of new people in an unfamiliar setting. My brain goes into panic mode and automatically blanks out. There’s usually way too much going on: another person who looks kinda familiar catches my eye from across the room and raises a hand in acknowledgement while I’m introduced to five different people at the same time, and I promptly forget their names as soon as I am introduced to them. A person tells me “Yes, we’ve met before” at the same time that I say, “Nice to finally meet you”, which, of course, gives the game away.
Ugh. I swear this happens to me, on average, once a month.
Still, I’ve found some coping strategies for this crippling social failure of mine. Usually, I’d raise my voice a pitch higher and say with all the enthusiasm I can muster, “Yes, of course. How have you been? What have you been up to?”
Of course, I still don’t remember who they are, but I usually hope that the the question will spark off some cues that will give me the context of how and when I met this person. I like to think that it’s a white lie worth telling as it saves both parties from embarrassment.
There is, however, one instance it is absolutely impossible to lie about remembering someone when you don’t, and that’s when he or she comes up to you and asks, point-blank, “Hey, do you remember me?”
And while me and my bad memory assumes partial responsibility for this awkward situation, I think it’s just bad form for the asker of the question to put someone on the spot like that. In fact, I’m just going to take it a step further and say that it’s egoistical to ask this question. Plain and simple.
The person who asks this question somehow assumes that there’s something about her that’s so memorable or special that she somehow cannot be forgotten by whoever she meets. But look, unless we’ve had a conversation that went beyond the bounds of bland, boring and predictable small talk that lasted longer for more than 10 minutes, or that the last time I saw you, you dressed in Gryffindor robes, stood on a table and yelled “Wingardium Leviosa”, it’s not reasonable to assume that you would have somehow escaped from my sieve of a memory the moment I left the event.
Still, I’d rather the person who asked the question not be offended if I don’t remember her. We’re all adults here, working in a fast-paced industry where strangers past through our lives ever so often. It’s not so much that you are so easily forgettable, but that we have yet to sit down and have a proper non-superficial chat about our lives and about work.
When that’s happened, and I still forget who you are the next time we meet, then perhaps, it might be my fault. But just in case, you might want to alert my business partners to a possible case of early-onset dementia.
And at the moment that you’re put in the spot, I’ve learnt that it’s better to just own up to the moment, and be straightforward by saying “Sorry, actually I don’t. Can you jog my memory, please?” followed by some self-deprecating joke to smooth the moment over. Trying to cover up the fact will inevitably lead to you digging an ever bigger socially awkward hole for yourself.
Anyway, here’s a nifty trick I’ve put into place recently, and it seems to be working quite well for me. If you’re going into a meeting that involve quite a number of people, try this: As they introduce themselves to you, and you exchange name cards, arrange the cards according to how they’re seated. Glance down at the cards to remind yourself of their names, and address them a few times during the meeting. It will definitely promote recall for future encounters with them.
What other strategies to you have for remembering names and faces? I’d love to hear them!
About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.
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