Incessant Introductions: When someone forgets that you’ve already met

by epi on April 4, 2012

Q: I get so cross when someone I’ve met a bunch of times introduces herself to me again.  Next time it happens, can I tell her that she should know who I am?

A: Good manners call for grace and tact.  There are several possible legitimate explanations for her actions: She might think you don’t remember meeting her, or she might not recognize you in a different venue — that’s certainly happened to me from time to time.  Regardless, it’s most likely an honest blunder.  Take the high road by not letting your annoyance show.  Rather than saying, “It’s nice to meet you,” you could say, “It’s nice to see you” of even “It’s nice to see you again,” which (kindly) lets the person know you’ve met before.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Just Laura April 4, 2012 at 9:50 am

I’ve done this before, especially when I’ve just moved to a new state and met a bunch of different people all at once. Of course I don’t mean to forget someone, but for some reason the new faces all run together and I have trouble recognizing a person until I’ve spent time with him or her.
I’m sure this forgetful person doesn’t mean anything malicious in her repeated introductions.

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Emma April 4, 2012 at 1:17 pm

What a distressingly unkind question.

I have a great deal of trouble connecting people outside of particular frames of reference, and strive to see the person rather than their physical attributes, so this sort of thing might happen to me.

Should I inadvertently re-introduce myself to someone who feels the way the original poster does, I hope I learn of their feelings so I can respond appropriately.

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Just Laura April 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Emma,
When someone corrects me (“Don’t you remember? We already met at the XYZ function!”), I quickly apologize and tell them that I’ve met a lot of new people recently, and I hope they’ll forgive my lapse in memory. :)

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Chocobo April 6, 2012 at 9:32 am

The EPI’s response is on-the-nose: I use “It’s nice to see you again” all the time when being inadvertently re-introduced to someone I already met before. Usually they’ll realize the mistake and try to correct themselves awkwardly. Just smiling through it and perhaps supplying a bit of helpful information (“Oh yes, we had such a nice conversation about gardening at Esther’s bash in April, how are those gardenias doing?”) helps to ease the awkwardness. I don’t really feel offended when this happens, especially if we aren’t close friends. I hope someone will be as kind to me in return when I inevitably make the same embarrassing mistake.

If you do find yourself accidentally forgetting someone, I think it is best to admit the mistake with an apology, a joke about oneself, and a change of subject:
“Oh of course we’ve met, Martha, how could I possibly forget? I’m so sorry, I must have forgotten to pack my brain in the car today. How are you?”
Even if you still have no idea who the person is, asking them to talk about themselves may give you some more information to help remind you who they are. If not, at least you’ll be reacquainted enough to remember them next time.

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anon May 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Some of us have a harder time processing visual/spatial information (matching faces to names/circumstances of meeting). It’s a processing impairment along the lines of dyslexia, but different part of the brain, different skill sets. The way the brain’s wired is a bit off and it scrambles the information. There’s a specific type of it called Prosopagnosia, which affects recognizing faces. You can Google that or visual spatial processing disorder, visual spatial processing impairment or non-verbal learning disorder/non-verbal learning disability to get more information if you’re interested. It can also affect sense of direction, math, music and athletic ability (many sports rely on coordinating visual spatial information).

I’ll remember names, but not faces. I can even remember pretty good details about what we talked about, but I may not remember your face. It’s really embarrassing as it is and when I have a photo available (e.g. work directory), I’ll try to repeatedly look at the photo when I’m working on something or after we’ve had a conversation so I’ll be more likely to recognize you. But this is tougher with social situations unless we friend each other on Facebook or something. Chocobo’s approach is really helpful because it’s kind and it’s a prompt for how met before.

In addition to trying to look at photos of people when I meet them to remember them better, I also “fake it”. The elevator at work is a really difficult situation for me. I work in a big enough company so that I don’t necessarily know everyone, but the culture is friendly & social. I generally nod and smile and respond to any conversation or sometimes initiate conversation if the cues are pointing that way. My reasoning is it’s better to have someone wondering why is that stranger talking to me? Than “why is [my real name] ignoring me and being such a snot?” So the alternative to me re-introducing myself is just ignoring you & hoping I’m not ignoring someone I know.

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