At a recent chamber of commerce networking event, a woman approached me. She looked familiar and I recalled that we had briefly chatted at a previous networking event. I tried but could not recall her name or her business. She had on a name tag but unlike most of the other business people at the event, hers was covered by her lapel and her hair.
I smiled as we shook hands and said hello. She looked at me a second and said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I smiled and paused, hoping to recall her name or company but to no avail. As I was about to speak and admit that I did not recall her name, she took off her glasses and stated, “You don’t remember me.”
I apologized that while I remember we had met, no, I did not remember her name. She looked offended but told me her name again and I apologized again. We chatted briefly but she never seemed to find my apology acceptable.
Now I will be the first to admit that my skill with names is not what it should be. I’m working on improving this skill. At the same time I am finding it takes me a little longer to recall names than it did a few years ago. I may even be losing ground on this project of name skills. But I keep working on it.
As the conversation with the woman ended, I did feel bad but I admit that I was not too upset with myself. It would have been great to remember this woman’s name and business from the prior brief chat. However, I didn’t and I was quick to honestly admit my failing and sincerely apologize.
I was also a little perplexed. Why did this woman feel the need to directly “call me out” instead of giving me room to gracefully remember her name, perhaps with a visible name tag as a helpful memory trigger?
Despite her actions, I was not offended. She didn’t know me well enough for me to take it personal or have my feelings hurt. But it was odd to me.
As time has passed, do you know what I remember about this woman? No, not her name. I’ve already forgotten it again (oops!). I do remember her industry but nothing that would distinguish her company in a crowded industry. To be candid and perhaps blunt, after two conversations there was still nothing that made me think we should explore doing business together or that we could successfully help each other find business. That left me little reason to remember much more about our limited conversations.
What I do remember well is her behavior. I remember that she apparently found it more important to immediately point out my fault than to help me see her as a considerate and thoughtful professional.
She may have been polite in her smiling tone but she was not in her actions. In fun you can “bust” your close friends for their mistakes. But don’t publicly “bust” new acquaintances in a business networking environment designed to help you establish your business with others. You earn the trust that lets you discuss faults, it is not a gift.
Help those that are struggling, even if you’ve decided to be offended or have your feelings hurt (which are both choices made by the offended, not behavior forced by the offender).
Perhaps I’m different, but because I struggle with names I typically assume that others may struggle with names, at least on rare occasions. If the event has name tags, I make sure I wear one as a memory trigger for others. I introduce myself in a group even if I know people there. Whether it is name tags or something else, I try to help others so they won’t be unnecessarily uncomfortable.
Am I just seeing this from my own selfish perspective? Perhaps. Am I being defensive? I hope not. I clearly failed to remember her name. However, whatever the case may be I find that it does far more good in building rapport with new acquaintances if you help them when they struggle than to drag their mistakes out as an opening line for a conversation.