Monday, March 28, 2011

Namely, It's a Problem

For you regular and loyal readers, this post may appear familiar; it is. You saw it here a few months ago--but I was asked to discuss this very topic today on the radio, (listen live at 9:10am or later when I post the clip). Since it was on topic, it seemed timely to share it again. New stuff soon!

Dear Social Grace:

I am terrible with names. Most people who don't remember names don't pay attention or don't care--honestly, this is not me. I am not a thoughtless person--I remember birthdays, return phone calls, send condolence notes and congratulations cards when warranted and genuinely care about my inner and outer circles of friends. But I have a mental block about names. I am also anxious about it, which makes it worse. I have tried mnemonics, rhymes, and every other trick out there. I live in fear that I will erroneously call my biggest client's assistant Jane (or is it Joan?) the wrong name and never get another call put through. Any suggestions?

Grace Says:

I happen to be married to someone who is not great with names and I have several suggestions for you....all are proven strategies and I can personally vouch for their efficacy.

1. Introduce yourself, even if you should know the person's name. In this situation, most people will provide their names. After they give it up, you can say, "It's great to see you again, Fred. I wasn't sure whether you would remember me." This flatters Fred, implying that he might not remember insignificant little old you but he left quite an impression--even if it is patently false. Graces never underestimate the value if a Little White Lie when navigating through awkward social waters.

2. Use the Buddy System, Part I. Identify a go-to person who is great with names. Ideally, this person is someone who is around you a lot, is reliable, discreet, and not a practical joker. (While he might think it hilarious to have you calling your boss's wife Fredericka when her name is Ann, the long term ramifications for you could be dire, or at least humiliating.) Have a signal of some sort--elbow to the ribs, wink, pursing of lips--which lets him/her know that you are floundering and gives the clue to broadcast a name STAT. This broadcast should not be an introduction unless you are on the initial approach. If you are mid-convo, a simple, "Sue, that is too funny/fascinating/wonderful/repulsive" does the trick.

3. Use the Buddy System, Part II. Introduce your date/partner/friend without giving the other person's name which you can't recall. Say to What's-her-name, "Have you met Alice?" As Alice shakes hands with What's-His-Name, she can say, "Sorry, I didn't catch your name?" or "Great to meet you....." leaving a meaningful and questioning pause which will force the name to be coughed up. Best to brief Alice on this strategy ahead of time so she knows to play along.

Finally, you can try the truth. It appears that you tend to remember the person, but not the name, which makes it manageable. You can simply say, "I apologize; I am terrible with names. I know we met at the neighborhood potluck and you play tennis at Oak Lawn Club, but I am drawing a blank. My name is Grace, by the way." This demonstrates that you truly do recall the person, which softens the blow, and gives him the chance to cough up "Bill" without being too offended.

Here's the Ting Ting's take on the Name Problem....

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