I just shook your hand and have already forgotten your name

Pleased to meet you. Now... who do you look like?

Pleased to meet you. Now… who do you look like?

There is a principle about human memory called the Law of Recency, which basically states that when someone encounters a series of similar “items” such as a group of people in a receiving line, it is the last item or person in the sequence that is remembered much more vividly than the rest. In other words, the end point of a sequence of events will color a person’s perception of the entire sequence. This is why it is so important to remember people’s names and insert them at the end of a conversation.

Most times, when we are introduced to a new person in a social situation, the new person’s name is forgotten 30 seconds after it is heard, because the rote reaction of social meeting behavior (a right-handed handshake of 2.5 seconds, brief eye contact, nice smile) was conditioned into us long ago and has become automatic.

An automatic activity has no need for conscious processing and therefore any new data, such as the person’s name, has nowhere to go. However, the conscious act of “remembering to remember” a person’s name, combined with the conscious act of inserting that name into the final moments of a conversation helps create a lasting impact – riding on the wave of recency and embedding itself into your new friend’s emotional memory and assessment of you as a positive element of their life.

The essential technique for success in this area comes from “remembering to remember;” to not get waylaid by rote reactionism, or to miss opportunity due to being distracted by insignificant surface-level urgencies. To be “conscious” means to be aware of a situation before going into it; to pro-act, not react, to control the situation and therefore influence your future for the better.

So how is it done? Remembering people’s names is best achieved through word-association. As you shake hands and smile, slip free of the unconscious reaction of the mere handshake and instead use the proactive physical act of extending your hand as a cue. Ask yourself “who does this person look like?” “Who does this person resemble, either from my past or from TV or movies – someone with the same name?” or “what features can I associate, such as hairstyle, glasses, eye color, that I can connect with the word that forms the name?”

This is a practiced skill, and with practice any one of us can memorize twenty or more people’s names in one go. Is this important? Certainly. The daily influx of information that every person faces is a sea of data, act and obligation. Anything that rises above the surface of this sea by making an emotional connection, a bond, helps you to stand out, to be remembered, to be liked. And that is the grail of connection.


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