Earlier this year, on a tour of a client's facility, a team from Young Isaac was walking with the client CEO and marketing director. We were deeply focused on our strategic conversation.
Their operations are largely open to the public, so just about anyone could walk by. It didn't surprise me to meet friends and strangers around each hallway.
But one person stood out. We saw each other -- she's a woman I know and respect from out in the world. We smiled and nodded hello. The tour group suspended its conversation so we could say hello.
I immediately said what I always say when I greet someone who I haven't seen for more than a year, "Hi, it's great to see you. I'm Artie Isaac."
I always think that it's nice to say my name, clearly, emphatically, so the other person doesn't spend any time struggling to remember my name. And so the other person doesn't fret later about struggling. I've lived much of my life with the deer-in-the-headlights look on my face, while I'm trying to put a name with a face. I don't like that feeling. I feel rude when I can't quickly summon a name from my memory.
Problem is, I don't remember names very well. Partly that's because I'm not a fully developed human being. I'm still learning and Name Memory seems to be one of my last learnings. I've read Dale Carnegie and others on the subject. Still, I struggle for names. That's made all the more difficult because I speak to audiences and classrooms, so there are thousands of people that know my name, but whose names I have never heard. People often say hello and I'm unable to immediately respond with their names. (Don't get me wrong. I so appreciate being greeted. And I do feel sad when I can't respond appropriately.)
Anyway, I offered my name, but this person didn't reciprocate with, "Of course you are. I'm [Fiona Sparkle]. It's good to see you again."
Nope. She didn't volunteer her name. Quite the opposite.
She said, "I know you. Now you tell me who I am." And she had a big smile on her face like she was delighted to be testing me.
This pop quiz would be OK from my parole officer. But why, I wondered, is this person choosing to test me in front of a group of people? Have I done her wrong at some point? (I don't think so.) Is this her expression of superiority? Is this motivated by her own low-self image, testing whether the world has noted her? Am I also supposed to be able to guess age and weight?
Truth is, I knew her name. I was 98% certain. But, on the spot, aware of my difficulty with names, I thought: what if I get it wrong? That would embarrass everyone. I'll admit that I was a little irked. I just didn't like the question.
So I said, "What is your name? You'll have to help me out here. I'll have to trust you to know your name." And I repeated, "My name is Artie Isaac."
She stated her name.
Please don't put people on the spot like that. It isn't necessary. It sets people up for failure. It's unkind.
Nora Ephron tells her story of forgetting names wonderfully well in today's New York Times.