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Gail McInnes

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Can't Remember Someone's Name? Be a Social Detective!

Posted: 07/22/11 02:32 PM ET

You are at party filled with familiar faces. It might be a work event or a friend's gathering. Someone approaches you through the crowd with a smile on their face - they are obviously en route to talk to you. You frantically try to connect the face with the information in your brain. What's this person's name? How do I know them? Then they are enclosed in your personal space. "How are you?" they say, naming you, "It's been a while." Obviously they know who you are, but still, your brain memory vault is working on bank hours and the teller's gone for the day. You mumble something like, "Everything's great and yes, it has been a while."

The conversation continues briefly about the event itself without this mystery person revealing the slightest detail which could pull that light bulb on. The conversation stalls and you agree to catch up sometime. Your friend, who has been standing beside you the entire time, absorbing the awkward exchange, says sarcastically, "Thanks for introducing me." You admit you don't remember that person and pray you won't encounter another nameless person that night.

How do you handle those situations? We all have brain lapses at times, especially in industries where you might constantly be meeting new people and interacting briefly with people. But how do you remember people's names and how you know them?

Ever meet someone who somehow just knows everyone and interacts with everyone with ease? They are the ones who have mastered the art of the conversation with a stranger. And it happens to them all the time, they just handle it differently. But how do they do it?

Here's how to handle situations with people you don't remember:

1. Try to jog your own memory by asking, "When was the last time we saw each other?" Hopefully their answer will turn your brain's light switch on. When this happens, instantly turn to your friend and introduce them; "Where are my manners, I haven't introduced you to my friend." And the conversation should flow with ease.

2. If this is a recurring situation for you and you are venturing out with a guest, you may want to mention to your companion your problem and ask for their assistance. If someone approaches and says hello, return their greeting, introduce your friend, then turn to your friend and say something out of ear shot -- a "code word" perhaps; no more than two syllables. Your sleuthing partner should shake their hand in the customary manner and promptly say, "I am sorry, I didn't quite catch your name." The unknown will be revealed and you will be relieved no embarrassment should come your way. With a good social detective as a cohort, the conversation could lead to additional exposure of pieces of the puzzle as they inquire more into your relationship and how you know each other.

3. Simply admit that you are having trouble remembering their name. We all do it and sometimes honesty really is the best policy. If you've had a hectic day or are consumed with something else use it as a preamble; something along the lines of, "I am so sorry, I am consumed with some things right now, I have blanked out on your name." Hopefully they will forgive you. And no need to get into the "things" -- chances are someone who doesn't know you very well, won't want to get involved.

4. If in doubt, and you've been chatting with this person, avoid the statement: "Nice to meet you." Replace it with: "Nice to see you." You never want someone to be snippy and reply, "We've met before!" Ouch.

Remember, it happens to the best of us. None of us are flawless and if we find ourselves in the reversed situation and greeted with a smile and blank eyes, simply be gracious and accept the situation, or provide them with additional information in the hopes their memory will be jogged. Another suggestion might be to ask if they have received your business card. This is a very thoughtful way of aiding someone in a social situation.

No matter which side of the situation you find yourself in, never take it personally. Now, if that was an old roommate or former partner, that's a whole other type of situation.