If you’ve got siblings, you’ve probably been called by their names before—often by your own parents. That’s because the names you use most often are stored together in your brain. It may annoy you but it’s generally not intentional.
What about when you’re working? Chances are good you have trouble remembering the names of people you rarely interact with or those you’ve just met. Since your effectiveness depends on relationships, this can have very real consequences. It’s hard to believe you matter to someone when they can’t even identify you.
Our brain cells fire in response to visual cues (remembering faces is easier) and hearing what someone does intrigues us, which can help us remember their role. Names, though, are meaningless to your brain—not to mention the fact that many people have the same name. “Retrieving [names] also slows when you’re tired, stressed, sleep deprived, and/or multitasking,” according to neurologist Liana Apostolova of the Indiana University School of Medicine. And who do you know that isn’t in one of those situations?
The most important factor in determining whether you remember names is attention. Focus when you’re meeting someone. If you don’t immediately remember, ask the person to repeat their name. Another way to get their name again is to introduce them to someone else—they’ll likely repeat themselves.
Use their name as often as you can. It’s a form of muscle memory—your mouth is moving as you try to remember the name. The more connections you can make the better off you’ll be. Try making associations. If you just met a Julie and you already know one, think about how they’re alike or different. The great thing about this technique is that even trying to do it has a positive effect on your memory.
If you’re more of a “word” person, try alliteration–e.g., Angie in accounting is awesome. Or imagine spelling their name out on their forehead. If they have an unusual name, get them to spell it out and picture the letters. Think about what it rhymes with: “Rewers, just like brewers without the b.”
Making strong connections is critical to your workplace success. Take the time to focus and remember those who come into your orbit. It’ll definitely pay off.