Three Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Forgetting Names

By David Worley - February 26, 2019

  “Damn, what is his name?” I think to myself.

This is an all too often occurrence for me. I remember people. I even remember details about past conversations related to their life. But too often their name eludes me. When this happens, within a microsecond, I descend into a toxic mixture of shame, self-flagellation, and anxiety. I try hard to not let this discomfort shine through my eyes when I walk across the room and shake the person's hand. “How’s it going?” I smile and ask. “Great, David, how are you?” they reply. What do I do next?

I posed questions like this to a person who is brilliant at building organizational culture by remembering people’s names. Kevin Greeley is the Senior Manager of Principal Development and Career Pathways at Denver Public Schools. I sat down to interview him to find out his tips on engaging people in professional settings. In the course of our twenty-five-minute interview (episode #3 of the Groler Podcast) I was reminded that remembering people’s names is the foundation for creating a vibrant organizational culture.

The following are four essential tips and learnings from the interview:

Make learning names a priority.  Kevin indicated learning people’s names was one of his top priorities as a school principal. When he forgot or didn’t know a name he hustled back to his office to view a school roster then immediately went back to the person to use that name in conversation. By doing this, he built his mental Rolodex of biographical knowledge of individuals in his organization.

Own it If you forget a name. This shows the other person respect. I usually say something like: “I’m so sorry, I know I asked you this recently, but I forgot your name,” people usually will smile and be grateful you asked. Many people struggle with this same skill.

Offer your own name as a conversational contribution. Kevin stated that when he has forgotten a name he will lead with “Hi, I’m Kevin, I know we’ve met, and I know your daughter/son is…” This simultaneously enables you to gain the other person’s name and build a stronger conversational bond with the person with whom you are talking. People appreciate that you remember the details of their life.

But more than tips for remembering names, Kevin reminds us that interactions with people, aren’t really about us. They are about the people we are engaging. My favorite nugget from the interview is this gem: If you are serious about building a vibrant organizational culture, feeling poorly when you forget a name misses the point because it puts the focus of the conversation on you. Instead, own your mistake and be relationally present for the other person. Your intentional engagement with the person is far more important to them than your own feelings of embarrassment.

(Image by rawpixel on Pixabay)
< Go Back