Dear style & substance,
I have an awful problem of not being able to remember who people are that I have previously met when they are “out of context”. An example is that I am friendly with the people who work at my bank, however when I see one of them at a store or restaurant, I have trouble coming up with who they are. What can I do about this, as it has caused some pretty embarrassing situations for me.
This is fairly common and we would say that the longer you live somewhere and the greater your professional, social and civic circles are, the harder the recall! We have a few suggestions, but since one of us sincerely struggles with this, we believe it is an important process to master!
Be a relaxed and gracious greeter. Engage in pleasant conversation (keeping your expression neutral) as this may reveal naturally what your connection is to this person, it may be simple or they may simply remember you for a very specific reason…and in this case, you should be honored! Look for clues along the way, as very often people refer to the people, places and things that you have in common. They actually may know you better than you know them.
Some keys to remembering names is to repeat the name often when you first meet someone. Introduce him/her to others and focus on a specific detail about the individual; that will become your mental/visual cue and a link to remembering that person.
If you are on the other end of this, in that someone doesn’t recognize you…be kind and say “I’m (your name) from the bank (or whatever the connection is)”, always using your name as a lead in. You will immediately make the other person feel at ease and comfortable – that is the art of being an excellent conversationalist.
Try not to interpret the blank look of non-recognition as an insult. Being new to certain groups always puts us at a disadvantage, as it is impossible to take everyone in and remember who they are, what they do, who their kids are, etc.! Your genuine desire to connect with another person far outweighs the very human act of forgetting a name.