Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Zero-Sum Name Game

This blogger has a shameful secret. He has difficulty remembering names and hates to resort to "Help me with the name" when he's greeted by name and unable to respond. If this is a (fair & balanced) social lapse, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap 'Zine]
How To Remember People's Names
By Malia Wollan

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If you are the name-forgetting type, you probably spend a fair amount of time feeling unmoored in a sea of vaguely familiar faces. Indira Pun does not have this problem. “Sometimes I see a guest I have not seen for years, and right away I know their name,” says Pun, chief concierge at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. “I exercise that like a muscle.” After 11 years in the business and thousands of names committed to memory, Pun has a few name-recollection-workout suggestions.

First, concentrate during an introduction. “Your brain needs to be like a camera,” she says. Listen carefully to the person say his or her name, then “take a picture in your mind of a unique thing about that person and register that uniqueness with their name.” Maybe that person has an odd mole or walks like a ballerina. As soon as the mental photo is shot, start saying the name. “Use the name two or three times during the first interaction,” Pun says.

When meeting important people, do a little homework ahead of time. Pun and the other concierges circulate photographs and notes on pronunciation. For the rest of us, a few minutes of study can make an encounter with a job interviewer or a new boss less nerve-racking; their names and likenesses are already familiar.

Don’t fear foreign-sounding names. “A difficult name is easier to remember because you put a lot of stress on yourself to remember it,” says Pun, 35, who was born in Hong Kong to Nepalese parents, educated in Singapore and speaks English, Nepalese, Mandarin, Cantonese and “a little bit of everything.”

If you are not sure how to pronounce a name, Pun suggests that you try it and let the person help you. Being corrected is better than not saying the name at all. Neuro­imaging studies show that the sound of our own names produces distinct activity patterns in the regions of our brains responsible for our sense of self. “Everyone likes to hear their name,” Pun says. Ω

[Malia Wollan has been a contributing writer at The New York Times since 2008. In addition to The New York Times, Wollan has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, PBS FRONTLINE/World, Forbes, National Public Radio, Fast Company, and other publications. She received a BA (environmental science and studio art) from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an MJ (journalism) from the University of California at Berkeley.]

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