‘Who Are You Again?’ The Science Behind Why You Can’t Remember Anyone’s Name

Image via The Oatmeal

The first step in making valuable connections with important people? Remembering their names.

According to memory expert Jim Kwik, who counts Bill Clinton, Elon Musk and Oprah (not that you’d need to be a memory expert to remember their names) among his contacts, not remembering names is a networking no-no:

“It communicates that we don’t care or we are not interested or they are not important, and after that it doesn’t matter what you say to somebody. We know that when we remember someone’s name, it’s the sweetest sound to the person’s ear. That’s why it’s so important to be able to do that.”

Unfortunately, as vital as remembering names is to good networking, successfully practicing the skill doesn’t seem to come naturally to everyone.

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As explained in the video below from Youtuber AsapSCIENCE, there are some scientific explanations for why it’s so difficult to remember the name of the guy or gal you were just introduced to.

As the video points out, a big part of why people forget names is explained by the Baker/baker paradox:

“If I tell you I’m a baker, I’m providing information about what I do and how I spend my time. But if I say my name is Baker, it has no mental links and is vulnerable to forgetting. After all, names are completely arbitrary and hold no specific information in them.”

Another reason for your lack of name recall may be the next-in-line effect. While being introduced, your brain may be so focused on formulating your own next moves, or even assessing what you’ve just previously said or done, that it isn’t truly committing itself to memorizing new names. In other words, your brain isn’t taking in information because it’s too busy thinking about how it will be disseminating information.

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To better remember names, try associating new people’s names with other things about the person you’re more likely to remember. If you meet a Sal, for instance, it might be helpful to remember him as Sal the stockbroker rather than just plain ol’ Sal.

Another tip: Take the time to actually listen to, and put forth the effort to care about, who you’re meeting. Thinking of and treating new people as though they were just another Tom, Dick or Harry is the quickest way to forget which one is actually Tom and which one is Harry. You never know which person you run into twice might be a person who changes your life for the better.

For Kwik’s MOM (motivation-observation-mechanics) method of remembering names, check out his interview here.

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