We are often told that most of what we need to know in life we learn at a very young age (before high school even). For most things in life, I would disagree with this because of the need for technical skills. However, what we need to know regarding social situations we most likely learned at a very young age.
The most important business lesson I learned was when my third grade teacher remarked that “you should always remember everyone’s name.”
Let’s skip forward to your most recent business encounter. You meet someone, shake hands and start talking about the matters at hand. You have a productive conversation, maybe exchange some promising gestures and get ready to depart. You are stuck with that awkward feeling or situation where you have to acknowledge that you didn’t remember that person’s name and have to ask it again.
It’s even worse if they remembered your name but you didn’t remember theirs.
The truth is that remembering people’s names is one of the most powerful skills you can have.
Why it works
What is it about this simple trick that is so useful? The truth is that most people want to feel special (big surprise, who doesn’t?). When someone hears their name from a person they recently met, it’s like hearing wonderful music. Ultimately, remembering people’s names communicates genuine interest and a willingness to put effort into a new relationship.
This skill falls closely with the principle that you should listen more than speak because it makes others feel more appreciated. Dale Carnegie wrote about this topic extensively in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
How the pros do it
If you’re like me, when you hear this wisdom you instinctively think that “I’m bad with names” and “it’s not you, I just meet lots of people.” It’s not that I was bad with names, I just wasn’t putting in the effort. The following masters of leadership used these techniques.
The famous French general Napoleon had a knack for making his soldiers feel motivated by remembering all of their names. His trick was that once he heard a name, he would stare off into the distance and think about it very hard for a short period of time, engraining it into his memory.
If you are not as skilled as Napoleon, plenty of other notable figures made it a point to repeat the name in private a few times and create some association between the name and face (or company, outfit...etc).
One simple exercise I like to do is when I am at a restaurant and greet my server, I make sure to ask for their name. Afterwards, I make a strong effort to use the name at least three times out loud. This is my way of practicing the habit of learning new names and making sure that I can recall them accurately.