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Remembering Faces

Remembering Names and Faces: an Essential Skill for Administrative Professionals

By Paul A. Douglas, Ph.D, founder & CEO, P.A. Douglas & Associates Inc.

The ability to remember names and faces is a great skill for any administrative professional to possess. It can enhance your interpersonal skills and increase your credibility. Most people have a problem in this area. How often have you heard someone say, “I recognize you face, but I can’t recall your name?” You have no doubt voiced it yourself. But I am sure you have never heard the opposite, when on meeting you for the second time they say, “I remember you name, but your face doesn’t do anything for me!”

Why do most people find the name far easier to remember than the face? Well obviously it is because the face is visual. I get to see your face; I only get to hear your name and clearly our sense of sight is our strongest sense. But there is more to it than that. At the root of the problem is the difference between recognition and recall. Think back to you high school or college days. We were give two types of tests. One was a direct recall test. It might ask, “What is the capital of California?” – followed by a blank. This question required you to search your mind and enter the correct answer. This was sometime very difficult depending on the
question. But there was another type of question we were given, that many of us preferred. It asked, “Which of the following is the capital of California? This question was followed by a series of choices – a) Los Angeles, b) San Francisco, c) Fresno, d) Sacramento, etc.

Why was the multiple choice easier? Because you only had to recognize the city, just like you have to recognize the face of the individual. But the name remains a recall task. You have to search through your mind and find that piece of vague and nebulous information – their name. A much more demanding task. In the short article I’ll give you seven simple steps that you can employ to make the remembering of both the face AND the name a recognition task.

1. Hear The Name
It may seem like common sense that you must hear the name, but as Mark Twain once said, “not everything this common sense is common practice.” In a communication sense we are generally more interested in what we have to say than what other people are saying. Consequently, when we meet someone for the first time, and they announce their name it often fails to register because we are preparing our responses rather than listening to their message.

Very often we honor able to recall the name because we never knew it in the first place. Not that the person were first introduced to them did not say it loudly and clearly, but rather we simply weren’t listening. It’s for that reason for example that are at our public seminars have long abandoned the process where the procedure of having everyone stand up and tell the group who they
are where they’re from and why they’re here why because no one ever recalls particular the name.

Why because his were going around the room and it everyone is announcing their name and making a few comments glib comments the people ahead of them are simply not listing their preparing for their witty and clever comments the getting ready to say something witty like Ojai there. So goes in one ear and out the other recognize this is reality. When you’re introduced to someone try to focus more on what they’re saying and what your responses are going to be. Not always easy to do, but with a little practice you can learn to do so.

2. See the Name Again, get your sense of sight involved, Research has shown that whether you see something with your eyes. Well, the simple answer is you don’t need to spell it correctly- spell it phonetically. The important thing is that the next time you see Pierzchalski you call him that an not something else. As well if it’s important
for you to know how to spell the name, ask them how to spell. People who have labored with a difficult name have often worked out ways to help others spell or even recall their names, Pierzchalski might say something like, “think of someone skiing off a pear,” that could help you recall it. Or you see it in your mind’s eye the “image” makes the same impression on your brain and in your memory. So see the name in your mind’s eye; Smith, Jones, Douglas in big block letters. I have had people comment that OK I can see Smith, Jones or Douglas, I can spell those names, but what about Pierzchalski, I haven’t got a clue how you spell it!

3. Comment on the Name
It’s not always possible, but when possible, draw your attention to the name by commenting on it. It might simply be asking them if they are related to someone with that name or perhaps commenting on the derivation. By focusing your attention on
the name however, it’s going to help you remember it.

4. Use the Name
Even in the briefest of conversations you can use it at least twice. Say something like, “It’s good to meet you Sally<” or “Bob you are with the FBI.” Repetition is a key principle in memory. When you have met a few new people at a business meeting or cocktail party, when you have a moment, run through the names in your mind.

5. Substitution
In many ways this is the most important step because it is here that we make the name visual. The idea is to come up with something concrete, that you can see in your mind, with that same name. If the person’s name is McDonald, you might see the
golden arches, if their name is Taylor, you might see someone sewing, or Arnold, perhaps the golfer Arnold Palmer, or “Arnold the Pig.” But the idea is in step five to have something that you can see in your mind’s eye. If you have never heard of anyone or anything with that name, then deal with it phonetically. If I meet someone with the name, Skilton will become skeleton, Burcher could become butcher and Zirkel becomes circle. There is no name that you cannot deal with phonetically. With some you may
have to break them into two syllables but it is still simple.

6. Identify a Feature
Step number six, identify a feature, might be the most challenging yet with a little practice it will become second nature., No two faces are exactly alike, and that’s why this step is not really that difficult when you know how. But you must learn to really look at faces. You need to identify what it is that makes one face different from another. To be proficient in remembering names and faces it is important that you can identify what specifically makes one face different than another.

There are seven major facial features you can look to in establishing differences:
1. Facial Shape
2. Eyes
3. Eyebrows
4. Nose
5. Jaw and Chin
6. Lips and Mouth
7. Hair
7. Apply the “Mental Slap”

What on earth is the “Mental Slap?” The story is told that when the great philosopher and teacher Arostotle would present an important idea, the crux of his argument, he would reach across the desk and slap that student as hard as he could! For what purpose? Because he found that not only did his pupil remember this rather tramatic event, but he also remembered the thought or concept that came at the same time. What we need to do here is likewise make the association of the pictorial substitute for the name  and the feature in a startling or even absurd manner – “The Mental Slap.” In other words in this vital step we absurdly associate the substitute we created in step five with the feature we identified in step six. Let me give you an example of how it works, some years ago I met a man by the name of Strembitsky. At that time I had never met anyone with that
name, nor had I heard it before. It was totally new to me but it was important for me to remember Dr. Strembitsky’ name. As I was being introduced to this fellow, I was thinking to myself; “What is a possible substitute for “Strembitsky?” Well, years ago I had learned to downhill ski, and at that time I was taught, as all novice skiers are, a simple turn called a Stem Christie. That popped into my mind, Stem Christie wasn’t dead on, but it was close enough to remind me of Strembitsky, if when I look at this man’s face, this image of Stem Christie comes out, I knew I could remember it. Looking at this man’s face, I now tried to identify
a feature, maybe one that might remind me of the idea of skiing or ski jumps or Stem Christies, well, but he didn’t. It seldom works out that way. What he did have, however, was a fairly wide mouth, that was the feature my eye travelled to. What did I see in my mind’s eye as I attempted to form the association step seven demands?

I absurdly associated that wide mouth with my substitute, Stem Christie. By seeing that wide mouth being held open by a little miniature ski. The idea being, the next time I see him, I will see that large mouth being held open by a ski, the ski will remind me of Stem Christie – Strembitsky! You may be thinking, “Wow, step seven is really four steps.” No it’s really not; it’s a process. With practice you will find that your mind will skip though the process. In fact the steps are not as far less linear than I have made them, the order may change or two steps may seem to happen at the same time. Remember, all you need is a cue, all you need is some short clue, and your mind will fill in the rest. Internalize these seven steps, try to apply them consistently. You may not want to start with new hirers; rather pick up a People magazine or a Cosmo – look at the names of the people you don’t know, create a substitute, look at their face, identify a feature. If you will dedicate ten minutes a day for three weeks a guarantee you will become know as someone who never forgets a name.

Good luck!

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