Q: What should I do when I can’t remember someone’s name?
Dear Forget Me Not,
Here are a few tricks that can help you put a name to a face again.
If you’re in shared company, try introducing the mysterious stranger to a colleague, or friend by introducing your buddy or coworker first. After this person introduces herself, John or Jane Doe will do so as well.
Alternately, ask the unknown party for a business card, or re-ask. (“Mind if I grab another one off you? Apologies, but it appears to have gotten lost in the shuffle, and it’d be great to stay in touch.”)
If you’re at a conference or event, you can also find a casual way to compare badges (“I see you’re listed as a speaker… super cool! I’m just exhibiting at this one.”) without obviously sneaking a peek at his or her identification.
If it’s appropriate (you may need to be in contact), you might ask for a number. But rather than punch the number in, ask the unknown party to enter it. You’ll often get a first and last name entered in your phone.
If you’re currently talking with somebody but have already forgotten with whom , the end of a conversation can also prove a helpful stopgap. Before saying goodbye, let them know it was great to meet them, remind them of your name, and kindly ask them to remind you of theirs as well again. (You might even note that you have trouble recalling names, and that it’s nothing personal).
Alternately, if you’re comfortable (and comfortable enough in conversation to be warm and friendly about it), you can simply be polite and let others know up-front when their names have slipped your mind. Plenty of people know what it’s like to have difficulty remembering names, and you can even be playful about it. (“Hi, I’m Scott, nice to see you again – I keep wanting to call you Sarah, but that doesn’t seem right … Forgive me, it’s been one of those days. If it helps, you can call me Sally instead.”) If it helps you to make things feel more natural and welcoming, you can always smile big and make a point to re-introduce yourself as well: “I’m the business etiquette columnist. You might remember we met at that networking event last week.”
And in a worst-case scenario, just keep using nondescript pronouns—you, he, she, we—until you can find a colleague or friend who can help fill in the gaps in your memory.
Scott Steinberg is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.
Do you have a workplace etiquette question? Submit to Scott by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.