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Nice to Meet You?

Monday, March 4, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

 
I often run into people whom I know that I know, but I can't quite place them. Sometimes I know how I know them but can't remember their names, and other times, I know they're familiar but can't even recall where we met.  Is it better to ask for a reintroduction or to pretend?
 
Signed,
Nice to meet you

Dear Nice,

In my job with Hillel's Grad Network, I meet a lot of people, like sometimes 200 new people within a couple of hours. I used to try to remember all of their names, and now I've accepted that that's impossible. I'm not sure whether you have a professional interest in these people, but regardless, this is something that happens to everyone (at least everyone human), and there are simple ways to handle it that can help you save your face while remembering theirs.
 
If you remember enough to know that the person is merely a passing acquaintance, it's fine to say hello and how are you and move on. If you feel that the connection is more long-standing or that you really should know this person, it's worth trying to delve a little bit, and there are plenty of ways to find out someone's identity without asking. One option is to say, "I'm so glad to run into you, but I'm in a rush. Do you have a card so I can get in touch?"
 
If you're lucky, you'll have someone with you during most of these encounters, and saying, "Oh, have you met so and so?" is a natural way for your sidekick to make any relevant inquiries for you, plus the mystery person will most likely supply his or her name in response to meeting someone new. It helps to make sure that your friends know that this is a role you need them to play, and they can help make it even easier for you. Being at a large social gathering, where I imagine some of these run-ins take place, provides a backdrop to ask someone else to supply you with the name.
 
When you're alone and and it's just the name you're missing, you can find reasons to ask someone to spell his or her last name (friending her on facebook, adding him to your phone contacts) without revealing you don't know the first name in question either. Even if you don't figure it out before the end of the conversation, you'll have the resources to look it up later. When you can't place the person at all, and you really feel that you have to be up front, try something like this: "It's so nice to see you, but I'm terribly embarrassed to admit I'm having trouble placing you." Then, if your memory is jogged at all by what he or she says, you can follow up with something you do remember, and if not, well, you still have to play along at that point.
 
Don't over-apologize, and don't be too self-deprecating, but also refrain from saying things like, "I meet so many people that I just can't remember them all." I will admit that at the occasional happy hour, I've said things along those lines, but I don't recommend it for the average case of forgetting someone. I'll also admit that when people who I definitely remember reintroduce themselves and say things like, "You meet so many people, I'm sure you don't remember me," I'm a little insulted. The point is, there's no one perfect solution, but if you handle yourself with grace and the other person with respect, you'll get through any case of forgotten identity.
 
Be well,
Miriam

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