“You’ve met me countless times already, how do you not remember my name?”
Kate called me out in front of everyone at the party.
I was mortified.
Yet what made it feel even worse was wondering how it must have made Kate feel, because not remembering someone’s name sends a signal that you don’t care about them and that they don’t matter.
And Kate was right.
We share mutual friends so we would often find ourselves at the same gatherings, yet up until that night I could not for the life of me remember Kate’s name.
There was no excuse for the social blunder and instead of trying to rationalize it, I used the experience as motivation to do something about it by obtaining a copy of Harry Lorayne’s aptly titled book: The Memory Book.
The book shares accurate, accessible, and actionable strategies for training your memory, but the most striking takeaway for me was the understanding that when we don’t remember someone’s name, it’s not that we forgot it—it’s that we never knew it to begin with.
Think of a time in your life when you first met someone, and then only moments later couldn’t recall their name. The reason for this is simple: you weren’t really listening!
The word listen is derived from archaic words meaning “attention, to be called, to hear, and obey.” This understanding highlights how the act of sincere listening requires a response to accept and acknowledge what was received.
And therein lies that key to listening: It requires a response.
In the case of listening to someone’s name who you just met, the response might be to use their name in a sentence.
In the case of listening to feedback while being called out at a party, the response might be to read a book to improve your knowledge and skills.
To this day, Kate’s name is burned in my memory because it’s associated with a meaningful and emotional experience. It no longer matters, though, because since that night all those years ago I have never seen her again.
(Perhaps the deeper lesson here is if we don’t care to sincerely listen to others, then they will treat us with similar indifference and avoid our company. Perhaps.)
Despite the social blunder, Kate has been a valuable teacher, influencing me to be a more sincere listener—and in so doing signaling to others that I care about them and that they matter.
And isn’t that something the world could use more of?
What might you do to listen more sincerely to the people around you?
I'm a mirror (and so are you).