How to keep track of names and faces to build relationships at a large c
May 7, 2015 5:36 AM   Subscribe

Remembering who someone is has been a roadblock to successful networking in the past – but in my new job, I have more people to remember than ever. I’d like to know what you, as someone who also has trouble remembering names and faces, has done to keep track of a large network. I am not looking for mnemonic tricks to remember one or several specific names. I’m hoping more for something like “Everyone I meet goes in my electronic rolodex that I update with X information after each meeting.”

Or something like “The most useful thing to take away from every conversation is ‘what is this person’s objective?’” Or something like “I use X software create a web of social connections, and color code the people’s pictures (taken from the company website) to remind me about X.” Some sort of process like that.

I’ve moved up in the world – instead of forgetting who tens of people are, I now am forgetting who hundreds or thousands of people are. Everyone at my new company says that building relationships is key to success – and in my position, I’m engaging people from many different silos and many different levels.

I'm sick of flubbing social meetings - unable to say hi to someone because I forget who they are and how I know them. Please help!
posted by rebent to Work & Money (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have a smartphone and do you have Evernote?

Scan their business card.

I would think this combo, plus the fact that it will scan for their profile on LInkedIn and give you a PHOTO of that person from their profile might go a long way toward your goal.

You can also add additional notes.. "Follow up on..", "Wife's name is..", "Loves fishing..." so that you have a conversation starter.

It's okay to "study" before a meeting or gathering, and review folks faces and positions before you attend.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:49 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whether written or typed, I always start my personal meeting notes with a list of names going around the table or room clockwise. New faces also get a little "looks like" or other distinguishing feature. This doesn't work so well in big meetings, of course. That's my reference during the meeting (I glance up at the top of the page to see the name of who's talking) and afterwards so I know who to email.
posted by Mogur at 5:56 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a similar problem, I work in a large organization that also requires me to interact with outside vendors and it gets tough to remember names and the faces that go with them, and what they do. I will remember a face fairly well, but names always escape me. If I can get a card from them I write down whatever I can of them on the back - physical details, hair color, additional little things we may have talked about ("shorter than me, bald, loves sailing," that kind of thing). If I don't get a card, I text the details to myself. Then I find and add them on LinkedIn, particularly if we're meeting again in a group of people, and kind of use it like flashcards. I'll most likely forget that they were a software developer, but I tend to remember the hobbies, as those are more (interesting) personal things.

I know you said you didn't want any tricks, but I use this one and have never had it fail - if I can't remember a name, I say, "I'm sorry, I cannot for the life of me remember your name." And they'll say something like, "Oh... it's Samantha," in that awkward way people do when someone has forgotten their name. That's when you say, "Oh no, I actually meant your last name!" Usually they'll laugh and then make small talk about the origin of their last name or something, and you'll have gotten the info. If it's a common name you can play it off and say that you know another Samantha [last name] too and you'll do your best not to get them confused, which can provide an easy out for next time. People take to having their last name forgotten waaaaaaaay better than when you forget their first name. Only do it once per person though, else it gets awkward.
posted by sephira at 5:59 AM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I add people to LinkedIn immediately after I meet them, and add notes for myself about how I met them and what they're interested in.

If you can recognize a face well enough to know that you've met someone before, you can still say hi and ask how they are without actually using their name.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:27 AM on May 7, 2015

All of the above, plus when you're first introduced, repeat their name and say how so-and-so-samename is one of your favorite people, while looking them straight in the eye, but taking in any details (long eyelashes? etc).
posted by mmiddle at 10:52 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm the same as you in that this inability has hurt me in the past. Two things that help me:

(1) When someone tells me their name now, I meet their eye and look at their face and try to discern the themness of them, if that makes sense, and think to myself 'This person is Mary' (or whatever). This has helped a lot. In the past I tended to 'skim over' the person in some hard to define way, and when I thought of them later I would not have a clear mental image of them because I never clearly looked at them. I think this is in some way related to confidence and the ability to sustain eye contact for me, but may be different for you.

(2) There is a condition commonly called 'face blindness' and sometimes if I see someone is upset that I don't remember them, I will quietly apologise to them for forgetting their name, and suggest that possibly I have a touch of this condition. This may or may not be true, but it certainly tends to shift people away from the position that I forgot their name/face/our previous conversations simply because I didn't care. The exact ethics of this situation is left an exercise to the reader.

Good luck! My girlfriend is preternaturally good at names and faces and I tremendously envy her ability.
posted by StephenF at 12:40 PM on May 7, 2015

Are you lucky enough to work at a company with a photo directory, on paper or on the website?

I'm pretty sure I have some of the face blindness that Stephen linked, and it can be a real problem. I try for anything other than face- hair color and length, any interesting marks on the face, height, gait, usual dress... Of course, this can backfire a little when someone dyes and cuts their hair. Its really hard for me to 'put the puzzle pieces' of the face together- I know my wife's eye colour, shape, nose shape, lips, that mole... but the 'whole face' is... hard. Doesn't click well.

That said, in the uncomfortable, awkward situations where I have been caught out, quietly admitting that there is likely face blindness, and that I of course know Bob and remember when we went golfing that one time, I just... cant... recognize Bob because he's out of the usual suit or hawian shirt/out of context, it tends to make them feel better. It switches it from a personal insult to 'oh, poor guy has a disability. Thats... odd but kinda interesting' I think.

Also, a lack of facial recognition seems to be connected to dyscalculia as well.
posted by Jacen at 1:00 PM on May 7, 2015

I used to be really amazing at remembering names and faces. It actually had some significant downside in that it would freak people out like I was some kind of weird stalker or something because my sister would intro me to someone and since I am her only sister, they would say "Yeah, we met once before. I bet you don't remember. It has been a few years." and I would go "Oh, no. I remember you. We met on a rainy Tuesday and you were going through a horrible divorce. How did that turn out? I hope everything is okay!" and this would just freak people out and it just got very strange reactions.

I still am inclined somewhat to remember ages and other social details, but it caused enough trouble in the past that I try hard to not broadcast that I know that stuff about some people, because it comes across so weirdly, like I have some bizarre, excess personal interest in them as individuals and not like I have this personal quirk of just tending to remember some types of details. And I am telling you that to make the point that you can play your lack of astounding memory for such details as a strength. You can help people feel you are a down-to-earth type and you can come up with patter to smooth things over and nicely ask for help remembering exactly who they are. I think I have less social friction since that ability deteriorated and now I have more normal situations of struggling to place where I met someone.

I think people just don't want to feel personally rejected or unimportant to you. If I explain that I just have terrible, terrible eyesight and I act warm and friendly and reach out to them to smooth over their feeling of ruffled feathers, people usually get over it. I let people know I just don't see well and it just took me a bit to recognize them or I just didn't see them waving at me that one time and please don't take it personally. As noted previously by someone else, pleading personal handicap can go a long way towards taking the sting out of it. I have known other people who let folks know that they deal with thousands of people and it takes a minute to figure out who you are and please help me by prompting my memory about when we last met.

Also, I have a son who is fairly seriously faceblind and we have done a bit of reading on things like that. I raised him to be feel as "normal" as possible and we talk a lot about research related to his various disabilities. So I can tell you that something like 50% of the time, if a NORMAL person meets an acquaintance in a different context, they will have trouble recognizing them. I have experienced this firsthand, even before my ability to automagically recognize folks deteriorated so badly when I ran into a nurse in the city I lived in at a store and she seemed familiar but I had trouble placing her because I usually saw her at a specialty clinic in a different city that I periodically traveled 45 miles to for special medical care. Sometimes knowing stuff like that can help you come up with patter for smoothing things over. Once you sort out who it is, you can go "Oh, well, I just had trouble placing you because I usually see you in (this other context) and not here!"

My son relies more heavily on voice recognition than face recognition. Like his father, he has far better ability to recognize voices than faces. Faceblind people routinely categorize people by something other than faces per se, such as a person's gait, their ears, or even their feet. So if faces are not your strong suite, then find something that works better for you. What kinds of info do you tend to remember? Can you use that to somehow help you create an internal data tree for organizing this information?
posted by Michele in California at 1:48 PM on May 7, 2015

You want a Farley File. Using that as your search term will get you a bunch of different apps to make this easier in the digital age. The main thing is to keep it up to date and always use it to crib before meetings...if you don't use it, it's pointless.
posted by anaelith at 6:17 AM on May 11, 2015

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