Handshake, hug, or high five. Those are standard options when meeting a friend, colleague, or acquaintance. Ideally, the person’s name will be included in your greeting. Yet sometimes we simply cannot pull a name out of our brain’s catalog of the characters we are supposed to know.
I have always considered myself to be pretty good at facial recognition and name recollection. One time I was riding an escalator in Atlanta and recognized an elementary school classmate whom I had not seen in decades going the opposite way on the same escalator. We had a lovely, albeit fast chat.
But my skills were put to the test when I was rush chairman of my sorority. On opening night of rush, I was stationed at the door of the sorority house. As the 100-plus rushees crossed the threshold, I was tasked with introducing each one—most of whom I had never met, but may have seen in a photograph—to one of my 100-plus sorority sisters, with whom I was well-acquainted. The rapid pace was challenging as I strived to convey a sense of warmth and sisterhood to our guests. When memory failed, my sorority sister became a nameless “dearest friend” as the welcoming introduction was made. Not my finest hour, but we exceeded our rush goals, so it couldn’t have been that bad.
Recently I read that an estimated 1 percent of the population has a particular knack for remembering the faces and names of everyone they have ever met. Can you imagine that? At the other end of the spectrum, recalling names presents a real challenge for an individual with a documented neurological disorder called prosopagnosia, also known as “face blindness,” which may affect up to 2.5 percent of Americans.
“Take the initiative and introduce yourself as you reach out to shake the person’s hand. Be gracious, whether or not his face registers recognition.”
If you are among the elite super-recognizers and run into an acquaintance who is a prosopagnosiac, there is no doubt that the encounter will be mutually frustrating. It will be necessary to reintroduce yourself to this person every time your paths cross.
Assuming the absence of such extremes, there will be multiple occasions when either you cannot recall someone’s name, or you receive a blank stare when you greet someone by name. If my husband ruled the world, he would mandate name tags for everyone, at all times, with a quick bio in small print to help him figure out how he knows the person.
Since name tags are not always an option, I encourage this simple, tried-and-true habit: Take the initiative and introduce yourself as you reach out to shake the person’s hand. Be gracious, whether or not his face registers recognition, and offer a comment about when you last saw one another to jog a memory that will reestablish a connection.
On the occasion that your greeting elicits a response that you have met previously, simply explain that you have developed a habit of always introducing yourself, because not everyone has a memory as good as hers.
We are each worth remembering, and our efforts to remember someone’s name upon greeting will always be appreciated.