Creative Leadership

When People Don’t Remember Who You Are

We’d all like everyone to remember our name – even people we don’t see often. But the truth is, as this research shows, names are simply difficult, and it doesn’t help trying to embarrass people when they forget. Have you ever met someone who taunted you with, “I bet you don’t even remember my name!” In those cases, even when I do remember I pretend to forget just to make them mad. (I can’t help it.) The truth is, it happens to all of us so don’t feel slighted or awkward.

I’ve known singer Michael W. Smith for years. I directed two music videos for him that both were broadcast globally. I’ve hosted him on a panel at a major convention. But last night I ran into him backstage at an event here in California and he was clueless. Obviously, he pretended to know me, but I could tell by his blank stare that nothing was registering. But I didn’t make him feel awkward or embarrassed. Michael’s a great guy and I knew he was thinking about the concert he was about to perform and so I let it go.

One of the techniques I use is to simply “re-introduce” myself when I see someone who might not remember my name.  It takes the pressure off, and gives them a nice out.  Give people a little grace.  I find it tough to remember someone I just met yesterday and if we’re honest, most of us are not that different. Don’t challenge people or try to humiliate them because they forgot your name or who you are.

After all, we’re all famous in our own minds…..

What’s the most awkward situation you’ve ever been in when you failed to recognize someone?

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  1. I know just what you mean. Working in radio means that I get to meet far too many people to remember each one. It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just about ‘people overload’.

    For me it might be a 60 second encounter at a promotional event but for them …. I’m in their car, their house, at their work or wherever else they listen to the radio every day. It’s understandable that they feel a stronger connection than I do. It can be embarrassing when we meet a second time and I still think it’s the first time I’ve ever set eyes on them.

  2. When I was in Spanish Language school in South Texas, we shared our school campus with a number of Mexican nationals who were studying at a Spanish Bible institute. Many of the nationals served as language helpers for us in the language school. A few years later, I met one of the young ladies from the school in Ecuador, South America. I recognized her immediately as someone I knew, and she greeted me as though we were old friends (which we were), but I had no clue what here name was or why I knew her. She was so far out of the context that I knew her in that my brain could not put the name and face together. I finally had to ask her name… Context makes a difference….

    I often re-introduce myself to people as well, as a way for breaking that tension….

  3. Good post, Phil. Curious, how do you re-introduce yourself without making them feel awkward? Something like “Hey, I’m Phil, we did two music videos together, but it’s been a few years?” 😉

  4. Good article Paul.

    This happens to me all the time – and what’s worse is that my wife remembers EVERYONE… we met with another radio station I was mentoring and she asks one guy we had just met if he was originally from Gympie – ‘yes’; and did he once have a limo business – ‘yes’; and was his name such and such (whoops I don’t remember) – ‘yes’. It turned our she and a team has stayed with him for a few days about 25 years ago!

    I relate to Rodney’s comment below, being in the same industry – but the other week a guy I half know who is famous locally, saw me in a hardware store and says “Hey Josh!!!” …- I instantly knew who he was, but for the life of me I couldn’t work out his name (and I could see he could tell), and I felt twice as bad because he is famous! – It’s pretty bad when the famous guy remembers you and you can’t return the favor!

    1. I know that feeling of knowing someone but not being able to come up with their name. If it’s a guy and he greets me with my name, I can sometimes overplay it with “Hello Sir!” – with a smile, that even works if they are in the same age range.

      If it’s someone I recently met – happened tonight again -, I say something like “Hey! Annie, right?” which then takes pressure of them if they forgot my name. 🙂

  5. Now that i am approaching 60, when i cannot remember someone’s name, most of the time I will admit I am having a senior moment and ask them for their name. As for people remembering me, I tend to volunteer my name so they won’t have to admit to their senior moments.

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