Hi, have we met? Sorry, bad with faces. What did we talk about again?
July 26, 2018 5:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I handle meeting someone that I may or may not have met before?

I'm uncommonly bad with faces and names. When I know I'll be interacting with someone regularly, I try to discreetly write down that person's name along with a description, where I met them, and what we talked about. I'll either memorize that information or pull it up on my phone just before the next encounter. However, despite making an effort to use the person's name in conversation, I often forget the name (never mind the other details) before I even have a chance to write it down. If I'm meeting a lot of people (for example, canvassing my precinct or talking with customers), I can't do this for every person. Short of whispering to an aide or possessing a photographic memory, what do suave, social people say when they meet someone that they may or may not have met before?
posted by gray17 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I've read that "Nice to see you" is a common phrase in Washington.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 5:31 PM on July 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I hate “nice to see you.” Makes me have to rethink if I’ve met the person before or not when it is dealt to me.

“Hi, good morning!”

“Good afternoon!”
posted by slateyness at 5:36 PM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I sometimes introduce my spouse: “I’m sure you remember KerfSpouse.” Then the other person always says oh yes, I’m Susie, nice to see you again.
posted by kerf at 6:23 PM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I own it-- "Hi I'm Tina; I suck at names; I think we've met before?!?!" Exclamation points indicating that I'm super pleased to meet them (if indeed for the third time)
posted by travertina at 7:00 PM on July 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

Hi, I'm Theora; we've met before, haven't we? Unless they are Goofus, they should reply with their name.
posted by theora55 at 7:23 PM on July 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

While it is charming as hell when someone you've only met once remembers your name -- most people cannot do that, and it's no big deal. I don't care when it happens to me, and (I think) nobody else does either.

"Hi, I'm pH Indicating Socks."
"Yeah, we've met."
"Oh hahaha sorry, of course! What was your name again?"
"Well good to see you, Gray17, and how are you enjoying your AskMe so far?"

I think nobody cares. Life's too short.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:45 PM on July 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I really don't care if someone forgets my name or whatever. It's not that bad of a thing to do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:09 PM on July 26, 2018

If you're UNCOMMONLY bad at it, you might have Prosopagnosia. We have a Facebook group for Our Kind and you can get lots of ideas on other people's coping strategies there.
posted by LyzzyBee at 12:13 AM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am ludicrously terrible and it's been very obvious at my current job - I interact with a lot of people and people are more likely to remember me as I'm in a leadership role (so maybe they know me from a presentation or training). I'm also of a visibly different ethnic background (so perhaps more memorable to others?).

My strategy is to be as warm as possible and never ask for names again. I also don't introduce myself; I let other people introduce themselves first. If possible, I ask someone else who the person is when the conversation has moved on. If not, I just strongly fake it and ask very general questions about family, work, etc. It's been quite awkward when I re-ask a question I have apparently asked before, but it's much less terrible than introducing myself again to people I've met multiple times.
posted by quadrilaterals at 1:35 AM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Notes from the other side: remembering names and faces is one of my super powers.

This can be very useful, but it can also be a double edged sword when I see someone that I know I've met before maybe I even remember their name somehow, but I also know that that was like...two years ago for half an hour, max. And it's like, am I really about to be that mutant who pops up like, "Hey, Janice, nice to see you again!" and ruins poor Janice's day as she struggles to figure out how this stranger knows her?

Alas, sometimes I am that mutant. BUT it also means I've been on the "Do I know you?" receiving end a fair bit and have received a wide range of good and bad reactions.

Hands down, the WORST way to respond is to double down on not knowing who they are, and you'd be surprised how often this happens, despite it being objectively kind of rude. Even if you are convinced in your heart of hearts that you've never seen this person before in your life, hitting back with a "no, I don't think we've met" is stone cold. A better way would be to own it completely, like Tina suggested, and use something like "I'm so sorry, I am terrible with faces and I meet so many people through work, could you remind me your name again?"

Not nearly as bad, but not great either, is to do a full, formal introduction like, "Hello, I'm gray17, it's great to meet you" because, even though I am understanding of the fact that forgetting names/faces is a thing that happens and don't hold it against people, I have now been placed in the unenviable position of either going along like I've never met you before either or having to issue a correction like, "We actually met at that conference about whales a few years ago" and now we're BOTH embarrassed.

A better approach might be to just generally greet them warmly and ask how they're doing/how they're enjoying the event, and let them go ahead and volunteer any information about having met you before. There's a lot of good scripts in this thread already for letting this unfold.

Also: if individual names and faces are tough, remembering details of the events themselves might be a good mental shortcut (assuming you're not totally swamped with events). That way if you run into someone you can't place but who clearly knows you, you can ask "Could you remind me where I know you from?" and they can say, "That conference about whales," and YOU can say, "Oh yes, I remember now! That was a great conference, the keynote speaker was fire," and BAM you have now assured them that you do, indeed, remember that there was a place and time where you probably met them, and now when you ask them to remind you what their name is, it'll be that much less awkward.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:51 AM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I too am especially terrible at remembering names, great at remembering faces though, which results in a feeling of "omg I feel like I know you so well, but I also have no idea who you are".

I also teach, and deal with a rolling cohort of a few hundred people at a time, of which I can hold 50 or so names in my repertoire at a time if I really work at it. It's terrifyingly hilariously awkward. My standard greeting is "heeeeeyyyy!!!!!" with a big stupid grin on my face. I apologise a lot, and I subtly (I think) eavesdrop on conversations to try to pick up the odd name here and there.
posted by threecheesetrees at 1:48 AM on July 28, 2018

what do suave, social people say when they meet someone that they may or may not have met before?

Well I'm really not sure I can answer that SPECIFIC question, but I'm often talking to people I may or may have not met before. Mostly I just try to be friendly and avoid saying things like "nice to meet you!" that make it super obvious I don't remember them.

To some extent, people thinking YOU will remember THEM if they met you in some context where a moments thought would reveal you met many, many people that day is a bit of a social gaff on their part, so changing your internal focus to helping them navigate this in a graceful way can feel less anxiety inducing.

Sometimes the setting is such that it's very likely there's a particular context I might very likely have met them at before, so I can say "Oh, I think I might have met you at Event!".

Sometimes they say something about having met me at Big Event where I volunteer, I usually just treat this as a small talk prompt and say something about what a great Big Event it was, what did they like best? Sometimes I try to find a way to compliment them on remembering me/us/event and/or treat it as a complement myself. (them:"We met you three years ago!", me: "wow, something must have really made an impression on you, what are you most interested in about (thing)?"

Customers can be a little awkward because some people don't quite get that you are being friendly as part of how you are representing the business. The maximum point for awkward for me on this was when I worked two different part time jobs where the thing was kind of a big deal in the lives of the customers in a "special family memory" sort of way, but of course I'd be seeing tens to hundreds of people a day in these roles. At this time in my life I'd frequently get people coming up to me in public with a huge very friendly "Hello" and absolutely no clue in which of these roles they recognized me from. Basically I'd just act friendly and if they dropped some sort of clue as to which role they knew me from I'd respond to that, but even if they didn't I'd just respond to what they said in a friendly way and it seemed like they usually didn't catch on.

If you read "How to Win Friends and Influence People", there are a lot of conversational tips about how to get the other person to talk about themselves. While using these isn't actually a great way to win friends, they are really wonderful tips for hiding that you have no clue who this person who wants to talk to you is or where you have met them.

Also, be aware that one somewhat shady way some people have of flirting and/or PUAing is to come up and claim "don't I know you from somewhere?" when they don't actually know you from anywhere, and basically try to pump you for a lot of information on where you go, what you do, and who your friends are. Don't feel you have to engage with such people, you can just smile slightly and say "No, I don't think so", or "Oh a lot of people say that, lol" if you'd prefer not to play their game.
posted by yohko at 1:26 PM on July 28, 2018

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