I am terrible at remembering people’s names. Not just a little bad, the worst. And I know the tricks for remembering names—and I try them, and I slow down and repeat their name back to them, and it’s all just so embarrassing. I freeze on friends names when pressed to introduce them to each other, and don’t get me started on Marissas and Melissas (sorry Marissa). I confuse sisters names with each other’s, dog’s names with your kid’s names, I mean, no one is safe from this fuzzy brain of mine.
It is incredibly embarrassing, so I often don’t use anyone’s names at all for fear of screwing something up. Even admitting this, I’m afraid someone is going to read this and know my secret. But I share it to pivot to another point.
I work with a lot of wonderful people, a few of them local. But when I do get to see a client in person, I’m thrilled, because we can say hello, and not just over a call, and I can hear about their lives and catch up. One client, we’ll call her, oh, Marissa, happened to be at Starbucks recently, and I waved and smiled to say a quick hello, and it was very clear that she had no idea who I was. I didn’t belabor the point, but we had met in person recently. Granted, I have a ‘you look like my Jewish friend’ ‘has anyone told you that you look like Mayim Bialik—here, let me show you a picture of her’ kind of face, so I get it. And, as someone that often forgets names, I didn’t think much of it.
I ran into Marissa again a month later at a little party, and as we passed, I said a brief hello, REMEMBERING HER NAME (I know, amazing) and nothing. We were just on a call the day before—and I let my voice kind of kick around her perimeter, because I’m a crazy person, but also, I was assuming she’d turn around and say “Elke, oh HI!”, but she didn’t. She looked at me like those people who think you’re waving at them in a crowd, only to realize they were waving at the person behind them.
I didn’t introduce myself because I didn’t want to embarrass her, or myself, by bringing it up—thinking back, of course I should have. Maybe she knew who I was all along, and that’s how she is in person. Either way, it got me thinking about the importance of knowing someone and knowing their name and knowing their story.
I have a brand that is an Elk, based off of my name. And having an unusual name helps people remember me. Everyone seems to know my name and plenty of people like to comment on it. But it has been my brand, literally and personally, for my whole life. I’m not used to people freezing on my name as I do with theirs, so this encounter with Melissa, felt, well, crummy.
I know this isn’t a nice thing, to forget people’s names. It makes them feel crummy, too. Lonnie Mayne was the President of InMoment, a 700-person technology company, and is now a speaker/consultant for organizations on bringing humanity back to business. He just published his first book Red Shoes Living: Stand Out For The Positive In How You Work And Live Your Life.
In his book, he shares five deceptively easy principals of being your best self and showing up in business. All of these ideas are centered around showing up, being aware of those around us, and remembering that everyone has a story to tell. Lonnie goes into anecdotes of how serving others and being present has changed his life for the better, and those around him.
Getting to work with him on this last book, he was like no one I had ever worked with ( a huge thank you to Amy Blaschka and Bruce Kasanoff for connecting us and driving the project). He left videos in my inbox instead of messages on my phone, with personal messages checking in. He spent time to ask about my life, my vacation plans, my kids. He never rushed any conversation with me, and knowing how busy he was, it made me wonder how he did it all! Once I read the book, I understood how important it was to him to connect with me—really connect. He never forgot my name—not only did he remember it, but he also put a thank you to me IN HIS BOOK! An author has never done that, in the 10 years I’ve been working on covers, not that they need to start, but Lonnie took the time to see me, and respect my work, and remember me.
I can honestly say that I have never been as invested in the success of a book (cover and interior) I’ve worked on with an author, and it was because of him, and how he treated me, and how he made me feel. He thanked me over and over for working with him and respected my process, time and creativity. If you want to learn more from Lonnie, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of the book, or bringing him into work with your company. Here is his site.
So taking a page from Lonnie’s book, I have tried to change my forgetful ways. When I have a meeting, I write down everyone’s names and use them often. When I see someone, and I freeze on their name, I double-check myself, find a quiet place to look them up on social media if I can, and use their name proudly. It might seem ridiculous that I have to go to these lengths, but looking someone in the eye, and greeting them by their name is something I can do to show respect, and maybe, they’ll remember me, too. But if not, I will completely understand.