We’ve all experienced the name conundrum — when you’re scrambling to recall the name of that person you met at last night’s networking event, or the one you played doubles against last weekend, or even the new colleague you were just introduced to 30 seconds ago.
It can be easy to attribute these mental lapses to your brain’s ability (or lack thereof). However, science says that the brain may not be to blame; in most cases, it’s you and your lack of interest.
Research headed by Kansas State University psychologist Richard Harris suggests that interest level significantly determines how well you remember names.
Nearly everybody has a good memory for something, and that something is typically determined by where your interests lie. People who are more socially aware, or interested in others and relationships, are more likely to recall names because the level of interest is there.
They’re in tune and focused, and as a result, it barely feels as if their memory is being used or tested during that second meeting when they say hello. And for those who are not interested in people, the opposite is likely true.
When it comes to the name game, people in professions such as politics, sales, or teaching, where knowing names is advantageous, are also more likely to remember names. In this case, a clear motivation is present, and the brain is motivated by rewards.
Business Insider asked Harris, a professor of psychological sciences at Kansas State, for his best tips for remembering names. Here’s what he said:
1. Pay careful attention when someone gives their name when you are introduced. If you didn’t quite hear it or catch it, ask them to repeat it. You could even make a comment like, “That’s my son’s name,” “That’s a nice name,” or “I knew some [people of that name] in [some city].”
2. Use their name in addressing them later. Practice helps it stick, and it will also show the other person that you are interested in them and learned their name. People like it when you call them by name.
3. Be sure you use the version of the name that the person gave. Don’t use a nickname, which might be something the person doesn’t like. For example, I introduce myself as Richard and don’t like it when somebody calls me Rich, which no one I know ever does. When I hear that, I think somebody’s trying to sell me something. Be especially careful in cases where multiple nicknames are possible. A Robert called Rob will not like to be called Bob and vice-versa.
There are various other strategies you can use to help remember people’s names, but the simplest one may be to show more interest. If you’re not intrinsically interested, find a way to be, so that those second encounters are less awkward — and more memorable.
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