We’ve all been there. Someone approaches you whose name you don’t remember. You’ve met each other a few times, but your mind goes blank… You manage to get through the interaction with a “hey, you!” and feel too embarrassed to ask for their name again, especially since they know yours. Whether they notice you didn’t remember their name or not, it is difficult to forge a strong relationship with the person if you don’t know their name!
Why does your memory fail you in moments like this? There could be a number of reasons. Research shows that the average American consumes at least 100,000 words and 34 GB of data per day! Given all of the information you consume on a daily basis, your brain cannot possibly store everything in your long term memory. Indeed, common reasons why you can’t remember something could be because it was never encoded into your memory in the first place, or you don’t have any “retrieval cues” to call the memory back into your mind.
Despite these challenges, remembering aspects about a person is essential not just for creating new relationships with people, but also for strengthening existing relationships. Forgetting someone’s name or an important detail can be a sign that you are not interested in the other person, which is the opposite of making a good first impression! Conversely, being able to remember details about your boss’ kids or a client’s favorite hobby goes a long way because it shows you genuinely care about them. What’s more, asking questions about recalling details and asking additional questions about them will cause them to associate positive memories with you, since psychologically, people love to talk about themselves.
Try these techniques the next time you want to commit important facts to memory:
Repeat it to yourself. According to research, your short term memory only lasts for 20-30 seconds, unless you try to repeat the information out loud or in your head. You can ask a clarifying question using the person’s name or restate what you just heard to make sure you understood correctly. After the interaction, try to repeat it again mentally to commit it to memory so you can retrieve it later. In fact, experts recommend “overlearning” the things you want to remember through repetition so that your new memory does not interfere with your existing memories.
Write it down. Studies show that your short term memory only holds about seven pieces of information. Since you’re not exactly in control of which seven pieces your brain will remember, a good idea is to write down important details in case you forget later. After a conversation with someone, make a note on your phone, on their business card, or on your laptop’s notepad with their name and any critical data. This is particularly important if you’ve offered to provide them with further information or connect them with someone.
Remove distractions. Don’t multitask when absorbing the new facts. Unless you’re using your phone to take notes about what you want to remember, put it away. If you’re juggling more than one task or multiple inputs, your brain has no choice but to prioritize one thing over the other. Another common distraction occurs when you’re not actively listening to the new information, and you’re thinking about something else or planning your next response. Instead, try to focus your complete attention on listening to the other person, and you’ll be more likely to remember what they say.
Make associations. To help yourself retrieve the memory later, make an association between the person and something easy to remember. This can help trigger the memory of the person and their name or important details. For example, if Sarah mentioned she’s going on a sailing trip, remembering “Sarah sails” will be easier to recall the next time you try to retrieve information about Sarah. Another example could be comparing the person to someone famous or someone you’ve met before. If your new acquaintance Matthew has brown hair like your cousin Matthew, making this association may help you recall his name the next time you interact with him.
Get enough sleep. Research shows that sleep is essential for the formation of long-term memories. Furthermore, if you’re sleep deprived and tired, your ability to focus and learn new information will be impaired. After your next networking event or big meeting, make sure to get a good night’s sleep to increase your chances of being able to retain the significant facts you were exposed to during the day. Remembering details about a person is a meaningful part of establishing a new relationship or strengthening an existing one. By failing to remember someone’s name or a significant aspect of someone’s life, it could be interpreted as you not being interested in them. Solidify important facts in your mind by trying these tips to improve your memory, and reap the rewards in your relationships!