Working around networking weaknesses and playing to strengths

Yesterday taught me a little more about my quirks when it comes to connecting with people.

First: I’m horrible at matching names to faces out of the blue. I compensate for this by glossing over it and smiling back in a friendly manner when someone smiles at me. If I’m lucky, people will give me enough tactful cues to remind me who they are in conversation. A name, an e-mail address, a particular characteristic – that’s usually enough to trigger my associative memory, which is strongly verbal instead of visual. Once I know who someone is, then it’s easy to access lots of other things I know about them, and people have complimented me on my ability to remember little things about people. But that initial link can be difficult, which is why I like interacting with people online where their names are associated with their words and I can look up people’s records in my database.

I occasionally feel quite anxious about this (especially when people put me on the spot), but I wonder what would happen if I simply accepted that and worked with it. I like how my mom handled it whenever I invited my friends over. She used to tell my friends that she’s likely to forget people’s names, so that’s the reason why I keep reintroducing people to her. And I would do so, reintroducing even friends who’d been there again and again, until my mom laughed and referred to them by name. If I can find a way to explain to people that I draw a blank on names a lot, while making it clear that it’s me, not them, that would be cool.

Also, I’m working on this by sharing my stories, asking more people to never put people on the spot like that, and avoiding doing so myself. If you think someone might have forgotten your name, reintroduce yourself instead of embarrassing the other person. ;) I also like including memory-joggers into the conversation, so that helps.

Second: I’m a little people-blind when it comes to slurping information. I remember concepts more than I remember authors, plot lines more than I remember actors, and posts and ideas more than I remember bloggers. I sometimes find it hard to figure out names that are out of context. I suspect I tend to skip past people’s pictures, too.

Maybe if I slow down a little, some more of that will stick in my head, and I’ll gain a peripheral understanding of what people are up to. I could also apply a tip I picked up today, which is to look for web traces for random people. Hmm, I think I can make a virtual assistance process for that…

Third: I’m good at connecting the dots. I may not be good at matching faces to names, but once I know who people are, I enjoy asking questions to find out what they’re passionate about, and I don’t hesitate to drag people across the room to introduce them to people they should get to know. ;) I’m good at remembering things people might have in common with other people. I’m working on getting better at that by taking notes, and I can get even better when I find or make a personal social aggregator and search engine.

It’s important to play to your strengths and work around your weaknesses. Real-life events can be tough for me, particularly if people don’t have nametags. There are a whole lot of people at work and elsewhere whom I should know, but don’t really. Heck, my memories of high school and college classmates are quite fuzzy. But I like connecting the dots. I get a kick out of doing so, and I love creating value that way. I’m good at that, and I’m good at supporting that with tools.

  • aaron

    I’m the same way. I can’t remember names of real life people or authors or other names I don’t know. Otherwise, I have a good memory and I am also good at “remembering things people might have in common with other people”. I don’t think there’s anything we can do about this besides take notes. The same reason I liked your essay on “Taking quick notes for books”. There, I just did it: I remembered something in common from my memory. :)

  • Cath

    It’s good to read this, Sacha – I’m feeling nicely validated! I’m also a shocker sometimes for forgetting who someone is, unless I can associate them with a shared experience or idea. I think it’s a feature of being an abstract thinker rather than concrete (an N rather than an S, in Myers-Briggs terms).

    My heart sinks when someone takes offence because I can’t remember them. It’s SO not personal. So I make a point of not ever expecting people to remember me. Even if we have connected in some special way it’s fine for either person to need reminding, I reckon.

  • David Ing

    Things could be worse. One of my son’s tutorial leaders has prosopagnosia, of “face blindness”. That’s not just bad memory, he really can’t see faces!

    He has students wear name tags with animal drawings.