This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Have you ever forgotten someone’s name? Like, maybe, right after you learned it? Or worse, when you’ve known them for months/weeks/years and you have no good excuse for your inability to summon it up?

And when that happens, what do you do?

If you’re like most people, you dance around it. You find any way possible to avoid admitting your blunder.

That’s not your only option. In fact, practicing a different response has benefits that go far beyond your relationship with what’s-her-name.

Try this instead: admit your predicament. Say something along the lines of:

  • “You just told me your name and I’ve already forgotten it.”
  • “I’m awfully embarrassed to admit that I can’t remember your name.”
  • “Your face is so familiar and I can’t for the life of me remember your name!”

The confession approach is a not only a great way to get better at the whole name thing (small muscle), it’s an important way to walk the talk of a trusted advisor (big muscle). Why the significance? Because it’s taking a risk . Telling the truth. Revealing your humanity—which, interestingly, usually makes others much more at ease doing the same with you.

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Get comfortable (or at least more comfortable) with the name thing, and you’ll find yourself better able to take bigger and bigger risks—the kind that definitively set you apart from the pack.

Side note: I’m pretty good at remembering people’s names and I’m often asked, “What’s your secret?” It’s a two-part answer. Being willing to admit when I’ve forgotten is one part—it takes the pressure off, plus I can get a refresher when I need it. The second part is repetition/practice. I make a point to call people by name as often as I can without being weird about it—from participants in my workshops to help desk reps who answer when I call. And when someone’s name is pronounced in a way I might not easily remember (and will want to), I make a note. In other words, there’s no magic in it; I’m just committed to it.

Make It Real

This week, practice referring to people by name, and practice admitting when your memory fails you. What’s it like for you? What does the experience teach you about bigger risks you might take with the people in your life?

Learn More


Refresh on three ways to build intimacy by being more personal, or find out more about the relationship between trust and risk in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).