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What to Do When You've Forgotten Someone's Name

Whether it's a senior moment or entrepreneur brain, it happens to us all. Here's what to do.
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What do you do when you meet someone and you cannot remember their name? Yikes! That can be embarrassing. A while back I had the owner of a restaurant send me a question on this topic. He said, “I was in a store recently when a person yelled out to me, ‘Hi Chef, how are you?’” And he said, “I faced the person and I drew a complete blank. Not only did I not know this person’s name, I didn’t recognize them at all!” Well, I’ve been there and I know exactly how he feels. The chef went on to say, “I smiled, and I said, ‘Hi, I’m fine’ and kept going.”

He then said he was really disappointed with his reaction. He said he could have stopped and engaged in some conversation and fake it. Or he could have talked to him a little bit and hope to get a clue as to where the person was from or how he knew them. On the other hand, he said he could have come right out and said, “Hey, I’m sorry I can’t remember your name.” Or, “I’m sorry I don’t remember where you’re from.” Basically, he was mortified, and he asked me, “What should I do in that situation?”

This is a great question. If it happens to you I recommend that you do NOT say, “I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name,” or, “I don’t remember where you’re from.” This is only because I’ve found that people sometimes take it really personal that you don’t remember them. And many times as soon as you recognize who the person is you think to yourself, “How could I not have recognized that person?”

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So I would suggest a couple of things. First, you certainly don’t want to say, “Nice to meet you.” Even if you don’t remember meeting the person, they clearly know you, so you are most likely not “meeting them” for the first time. Consequently, I recommend saying,“Hi, good to see you,” and then start a simple conversation.

For example, my friend was in a grocery store and he’s a chef—he could have asked them, “So, what are you planning for your meal?” Or whatever works in that situation. “Good to see you,” and strike up a simple conversation. If you can’t put two and two together, tell them, “Hey, look – really good to see you again. Gotta run – talk to you again. Probably see you again here at the store” -- or wherever. But as a rule, I don’t recommend you tell them you don’t know who they are. No reason to embarrass yourself and embarrass them. Starting a dialogue is a great way to shake up the gray matter in your head to try to remember where they came from.

OK, so I’ll admit it – this has happened to me from time to time, and based on my experience that’s a great approach. If you absolutely don’t want to use this technique, a fall-back approach can be one that someone once shared with me: “Sorry, I’m having a total ‘Senior Moment’ and I don’t recall where we’ve met.” Feel free to use that if you don’t feel very brave with the “good to see you” approach. However, be prepared for some bruised feelings.

What would you do in that situation? Do you have another suggestion? Put it right here in the comments section of this column. I’d love to see your responses. Who knows, maybe I’ll try out something different.

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