Many people report having problems remembering names, even when meeting small groups of people for the first time. However, the recall of a name can be one of the most important actions we take, both in business and social settings.
Ensuring name recall needs to be a task we consciously take action on, rather than rely on past abilities. This task is a function of our “working memory”, which is the ability to process and recall information encoded in the last 30 to 60 seconds. Our working memory has limited capacity. Its role is to temporarily hold information so it’s available to be applied to current tasks, such as being able to use the name of someone you recently met for the first time.
Research tells us the average person’s working memory ability peaks around age 30, then that ability declines about 10% for every decade after that. However, this doesn’t have to be the case and you can start by becoming more “memory aware” and get the benefits of recalling names, without a lot of effort.
Forgetting names can put you behind in group situations. Instead, aim to be FAR ahead and avoid any embarrassment in social or business situations by using and practising this simple acronym… F-A-R (Focus – Associate – Repeat) each time you’re in a new social situation. When consciously applied, this will be enough to ensure an effective improvement in your name recall. Here are the steps to follow…
FOCUS – All too often the novelty of a new social situation, or important business meeting, means lots of thoughts and ideas are occupying our thinking. Consequently, we miss the opportunity to encode the person’s name in any meaningful way. When you hear a name for the first time, pay attention to the person and his or her name. Ensure you’re focused and don’t just rely on some belief you’ll remember the person’s name later in the meeting or gathering. Focus is enhanced and reinforced by our senses. When you hear the name, look at the person. Focus on a couple of physical features to use our visual sense. If it’s appropriate to shake hands, note the type of handshake the person has. This is all part of name encoding.
ASSOCIATE – One of the most powerful types of memory is “associative memory”, which occurs on a daily basis. Recall is aided by association. When you hear the name, think of who else do you know by that name? Another option is to visualize the person and his or her name with a place or something familiar. Associative memory is a powerful device and common method “super memorists” use to encode and recite huge amounts of data, such as recalling every card in a shuffled deck in the correct order.
REPEAT – Finally, it’s important to reinforce the encoding of the person’s name by repeating the name. Using the “rule of 3” can be applied here. The rule of 3 is to aim to repeat the person’s name 3 times during the next 3 minutes after an introduction. For example, if you are introduced to Mary-Anne at a business meeting, you might say to yourself…. “This is Mary-Anne”, then when you shake hands, say out loud, “I’m pleased to meet you Mary-Anne”. If possible, within a couple of minutes, you then say, “What’s your role here, Mary-Anne?” or “Mary-Anne, did you get an agenda for this meeting?”
By combining these points, your recall of names can be enhanced significantly. To most people, the use of their name is not only a sign that you have taken notice of who they are, but it’s also an important rapport builder. Being someone who remembers names can be a powerful strategy in both business and social settings.
Michael Tunnecliffe is a psychologist. For information on his program, Improve Your Working Memory, go to his practice website https://www.ashcliffe.com.au/events or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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