I’ve never been very good at remembering people’s names. Or at least, I’ve never been as good at remembering names as I would like to be.
But I’m getting better—and I trace much of the change to a specific event that happened in my life many years ago.
Now, I know there are tips and tricks and books and courses you can take to get better at remembering names. I’ve even tried a few. But for me, the lesson I needed to learn was deeper, more introspective. There was something else getting in the way.
This became clear a number of years ago while speaking at an event in Wisconsin. It was a cold, winter evening outside. But inside was warm and pleasant. When I finished speaking, as people were departing, a lovely couple came up to meet me.
We exchanged names and pleasantries. And because the environment was quiet and informal, we continued to talk for the next 10-15 minutes on a wide-range of topics. It was wonderful.
But when they walked away, it dawned on me that I had entirely forgotten their names. And by “forgotten,” I mean totally forgotten—like I don’t think I even remembered the first letter of their names, much less the entire thing.
I knew I would probably see them again the next day and I could certainly cover over the fact that I didn’t remember their names until I had chance to glance at their name tag—I’ve done it a thousand times before.
But on this particular evening, as I got into my car and drove off into the cool night, I felt a bit of sadness. I was sad that I wasn’t able to remember something as simple as the names of two people I very much enjoyed meeting.
Slowly, I began to ask myself why. Rather than trying to remember their names, I started asking why I was unable to recall them. I was sure they mentioned them. I mean, I could picture the moment where I held out my hand to shake theirs.
I remembered them stating their names, but all I could remember from our interaction … was me … stating mine.
They introduced themselves, but all I can remember was introducing myself.
And suddenly it struck me.
I entered the conversation—as I do so often—with the desire to be known rather than to know. I was trying so hard to say something impressive or witty or intelligent that I entirely missed what they were saying on the other side of the conversation.
I wanted them to know my name more than I wanted to know theirs.
I wanted to share my expertise rather than seek to learn from theirs. I wanted opportunity to tell my story more than I wanted opportunity to hear theirs. I wanted to be known more than I wanted to know.
I could not remember their name because I was too focused on them remembering mine.
I’ve run through that conversation countless times in my life over the years. These days, as much as possible, when I meet somebody new, I try hard to remember their name.
I don’t always get it right. But I have found when I enter a conversation seeking to know the other person more than being known by them, my chances of remembering their name increase significantly.
Even more, I have discovered that taking the time to truly know someone else is one of the quickest paths to being known by them.