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You see him from
across the room. You know him, but you can’t remember how you know him. Now you
have a problem: you want to break the ice but your uncertainty is holding you
back. Uh oh, he’s heading in your direction. What do you do?!
If you’ve ever been in this situation before, you know how uncomfortable it can
get – especially if you really should know who the person is. What’s more, it’s
not uncommon to evade those whom you cannot remember for the fear of
But your uncertainty shouldn’t generate a “Please Don’t Let This Person Talk To
Me” attitude. That would hinder your approachability. People forget people
everyday. But with the right attitude, questioning, conversational direction and
communication tools, the following techniques will help you pinpoint who you’re
talking to without risking total embarrassment.
Like every other skill in the world, this too starts with attitude. Don’t dwell
on the fact that you have no idea who the heck you’re talking to. Empty your
mind of distracting thoughts like, “This guy’s office has been down the hall
from mine for 11 years,” or “How could I forget her name? She’s my sister!”
These self-loathing thoughts will impede you from actively listening to what
people are saying, the contents of which may contain a valuable clue.
So don’t feel bad when you blank on someone’s name, occupation or the time when
you first met. Remember: everyone’s been there before. It’s not the end of the
Iceberg Right Ahead
Here’s a full-proof tool for figuring out who people are. You can’t buy it at a
store or find it in a Land’s End Catalog. In fact, every year millions of people
fail to communicate effectively because they forget to use this tool. So if you
want to learn information about the person you’re talking to, open up. Your
ears, that is.
Listen for iceberg statements. These are key words, phrases or sentences under
which 90% of the important information awaits your discovery. But be patient.
And as soon as you hear that iceberg statement, follow it up with a probing
question that will dive beneath the surface. In time, what you need to remember
about someone will be revealed to you.
Know the Questions, Not the Answers
Let’s say you’re already talking to someone, but you can’t remember who they
are. And, you aren’t comfortable admitting to your memory lapse. In this
situation, the most effective technique is to ask open ended questions to
encourage people to disclose who they are.
But beware! Don’t get haunted by the “How Are You Ghost.” He’ll get you every
time! Instead, ask open ended, not overly specific questions that probe for
information. More often than not, your inquiry will empower them to open up and
something will jar your memory.
For example, imagine that you can’t remember where someone works. Simply ask her
questions that allude to general scheduling like, “What’s on tap for this week?”
or “What projects are keeping you busy?” Another great topic that’s bound to
narrow down job possibilities is travel: “Any trips or travel plans coming up?”
Offer Free Information First
In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry was unsure of a certain woman’s name.
So, during their conversation he told a story about various nicknames he had as
a kid. Then he asked her if she had any nicknames. This is a great example
(albeit an over exaggerated one) of how self-disclosure provides an outlet
through which one party will reveal the exact same information that is so
desperately needed by the other.
Therefore, if you need to know a specific fact about someone, offer your free
information first. Make a reference to that which you seek to discover and
follow it with an inquiry that will empower the other person to reveal the same.
And because self-disclosure is reciprocal, you will hear key words and phrases
that will restore your memory and rescue you from embarrassment.
Use a Third Party
Every book written on how to remember names, faces, people, etc. will tell you
to introduce them to a third party. This works every time. If you can’t place a
person’s name, position, company, family, then use your socializing skills to
bring two new people together. Tell the person whose information you’ve
misplaced, “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. This is Gary, we work
together at Amcorp.” (Before you do this, signal or whisper to Gary that you
need his help with the other person’s information.) Gary, being the polite
conversationalist he is, will elicit an introduction and a conversation that
will eventually draw out the information you need.
Now, if someone across the room catches your eye but you can’t seem to remember
them, third parties are perfect for pre-conversation preparation. Before
approaching the pseudo-stranger, find someone else you KNOW and ask them all
about your forgotten friend. With a few simple questions, you will easily gain
the knowledge to become more approachable so you can connect and communicate
with anybody – even the people you forgot.
If you’ve reached a point in the conversation where you don’t feel comfortable
admitting you forgot, can’t think of any open ended questions or don’t have
access to a third party, there’s always props. The most effective prop is
someone’s business card. It contains all the pertinent names, logos, websites
and other visual “Ah ha’s!” that will lubricate the hamster wheel known as your
brain. But don’t tell them you lost their card – that’s just as bad as saying
you “forgot” their name. Simply request another card and quickly glace at it
while you thank them and put it in your pocket.
Depending on where you are, dozens of other props are useful for jarring your
memory as well: nametags, promotional items, briefcases, table tents, etc. The
point is that people remember that which appeals to their visual sense three
times more than the other senses. So use props when you can!
Honesty is the Best Policy
The easiest and most gracious technique for finding out how you know someone is
honesty. It’s always the best policy. And it’s like the old saying goes: “If
you’re honest, you don’t have to remember anything.” Now obviously, the
willingness to admit you’ve forgotten something – or in this case, someone – is
not an easy thing to do. In fact, sometimes it’s downright humiliating! But
honesty is the quickest way to solve a conversational mystery. So if you don’t
have a problem flat-out telling people you can’t remember who they are or how
you know them, here’s how to take one for the team.
First and foremost, DON’T say the word “forget.” That will only make someone
feel unimportant. It’s less offensive when you use polite verbiage that
downplays the idea of “forgetting” with such phrases as “Please remind me,”
“Could you help me with,” “I’m terrible with remembering,” and “It slipped my
mind.” People will be glad to offer the information you have misplaced in
exchange for you admittance of a temporary brain poof.
I Know I Know You
The longer you interact without knowing who you’re talking to, the more
uncomfortable you will become. Uncertainty is a communication barrier that
hinders approachability, and the only way to reduce it is to identify and
extract information about people. Use the techniques of questioning, free
information, third parties, props and active listening. (If all else fails, just
admit that you’ve suffered a memory lapse!) And with practice and the right
attitude, you’ll never have to say “There goes what’s-her-name from that thing
with the guy at the place” again.
LET ME ASK YA THIS...
Have you ever done detective work to figure out who someone was?
LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
Email me your best technique for discovering who a person is. I'll quote you in
my next blog post!
© 2006 All Rights Reserved.
About the Author
Scott Ginsberg, aka "The Nametag Guy," is the author of three books and a
professional speaker who helps people maximize approachability, become
unforgettable and make a name for themselves. To book Scott for your next
association meeting, conference or corporate event, contact Front Porch
Productions at 314/256-1800 or email
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-04-04 12:13:38 in Personal Articles