The secret to building professional relationships is learning names
Learning names is a career skill that will help you in every role and every organisation. People’s favourite word is their own name. Taking the time to commit a name to memory demonstrates that you respect them. Often people find learning names difficult, the trick is to actively take the time to remember.
“Using a person’s name is crucial, especially when meeting those we don’t see very often. Respect and acceptance stem from simple acts such as remembering a person’s name and using it whenever appropriate.”
Why are people so bad at remembering names?
People often say, “I’m terrible at remembering names,” the truth is you’re either:
- Lazy, or
- More interested in the response to your own name.
OK so lazy may be a bit harsh, but learning names comes down to taking the time to focus and commit the name to memory.
In other words, developing the habit of remembering names.
However, there may be situations that make learning names more difficult. For instance some people struggle because they need to write down something to remember it. Or we are being introduced to lots of people at the same time, we don’t have time to commit the name to memory before being given another name to learn.
The truth is, you need to find ways to get your focus on the name and the person, that way you can learn and remember their name.
“People are better at remembering things that they’re motivated to learn. Sometimes you are motivated to learn people’s names, and other times it’s more of a passing thing, and you don’t at the time think it’s important.”
Charan Ranganath, the director of the Memory and Plasticity Program at the University of California, Davis
Here are some different techniques and approach to learning names:
A. Introductions – learn the name of the person you are being introduced to.
- Pay attention to their name (don’t focus on their reaction to your name)…
- …and repeat it back to them when introduced, “This is Louise”, “Great to meet you Louise.”
- If you’re in a meeting write the new name down.
- Repeat the name in your head.
- Use the name often to make it sink in. If you’re in a meeting, emphasise a point they make, “I agree with Louise…”
“Try to recall the information immediately or soon after you learn it. The act of actually testing yourself on the name will help you retain it better in the long term.”
B. Meeting lots of new people – write down their names in the physical location.
For example, you might be in a meeting or being introduced to people in an office.
- Draw a basic layout of the space, put lines where all of the different people are.
- As you are introduced write their name down.
- Alternatively, use this to test how many names you remember.
C. New company – draw the organisation structure and add names as you meet people.
For instance, context can help us to remember names, in a new company the organisation structure can provide you with that structure.
- Draw the organisation structure.
- Write names in to the structure as you are introduced.
Practice learning and remembering names to develop the career habit
Make this a career habit for whenever you meet new people. Build the name remembering muscle and it will quickly become a habit.
As a result of taking the time to learn names you will build relationships faster. Not only that, you will have the confidence to use names more frequently which will help to cement existing relationships. Because of this work you will become more popular in your workplace and that will make doing work much easier.
Starting a new job?
First impressions matter
Learning names is a great way to build relationships with new colleagues and make a great first impression. Use our 100 day new job plan to set yourself up for success.Find out more