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Why Pretty Much Everyone Is Terrible At Remembering Names

Here are four reasons why new name recall is so hard.
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The inability to remember a person's name upon just meeting is frustrating on several levels. Not only do you feel helplessly scatterbrained, but it also seems inconsiderate to forget such an important detail. 

Don't beat yourself up over it. Few truly possess the admirable gift of new-name memory. The fact of the matter is that names are incredibly easy to forget. 

Atlantic writer Olga Khazan recently tried to get to the bottom of this unfortunate phenomenon. She turned to the experts and concluded that there are at least four reasons why people have a hard time mastering this art:

1. Stage-fright

"When you encounter a group of strangers with outstretched hands, your mind turns into a scared 9-year-old at the school talent show," Khazan writes. Your mental energies must focus on pulling off your next move--such as segueing into a conversation--and as a result, you forget to concentrate on what's happening in the here and now.

2. You actually aren't interested

Maybe you're at a particular networking event or party, and it just isn't your scene. In this case, you'll initially be less inclined to get to know others, and that's absolutely fine.

3. (Working) memory failure

Don't worry, forgetting new names doesn't indicate that there's anything wrong with your brain. For most people, the "working memory," or the short-term memory, "functions like a very leaky thermos," according to Khazan. 

Your working memory best retains information when you intensely focus on a new tidbit just after learning it. But there is only so much room in the short-term memory. In other words, there are only so many new names you can remember in a given amount of time.

4. Names aren't really all that important

"It doesn't actually tell you anything about the person you're meeting, and thus it doesn't give your brain anything to cling to," Khazan points out.

Of course, there are way to outsmart your own leaky memory. For example, I learned this trick from an old boss:  

Have your business card at the ready when meeting someone new at a networking event or business meeting. Then hand it off right after you introduce yourself with a handshake. Almost always this prompts the other person to hand you their own business card right back.

It might seem a little forward to exchange cards at the beginning of the conversation, rather than the end. But at least now you are both holding a mini cheat sheet for remembering each other's names.  

And if that doesn't work, there's always plan B. Simply ask someone to remind you of their name again. 

Last updated: Aug 22, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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