Q. I'm forgetful when it comes to people. I have a hard time remembering details like names of my co-workers' kids and other personal things. I'm moving into a role where I will be engaging with a lot more people, and am worried that I will seem like I don't care about them. What can I do?
A. Figure out what you want your relationship with co-workers and clients to be like, and then train yourself to make it happen.
The inner game
Whatever style your interactions take, you need to be authentic. From that perspective, it'll be important to take an honest look at the reasons for your forgetfulness.
There may be some powerful "shoulds" going on; for example, "I should be interested in people's lives outside of work."
Focus on setting aside judgment about yourself so that you can get curious and understand what's really going on.
Now, think more about this pattern. Is it just at work, or does the same thing happen socially? How much do you think is related to having too many things on your mind? Consider whether there are times when you do have a stronger recall, and try to figure out what makes them different.
Take this a bit broader, and think about your methods of remembering tasks or work-related facts and figures.
It may come more naturally; however, it's more likely that you have set up systems to keep important information top of mind.
These can be adapted to help you on the personal front.
The outer game
Start by creating a system to document information about people. Smartphones are a good resource — you can add detailed information into contacts. This is especially helpful for people you don't see often. Then, if you know you'll be seeing someone, you can refresh your memory.
But what about people you see regularly and unpredictably? Give yourself a study course to learn some things about people. Practice like you would a vocabulary list if learning a new language. Make it an important part of your day, and give yourself specific goals.
You may be forgetting because you weren't really listening. This is pretty common, and you can teach yourself to pay attention. Monitor yourself to see if you're taking in the details or if your attention is drifting. Then stop and bring yourself back. You can see how well you're doing by trying to write down what was said. With practice, you'll get better at retaining the information.
If you're more visual, create images in your mind to help remember. Picture your co-worker with his family, for example, and tie the names to the images. If you know their favorite activities, picture them at a piano or playing hockey.
Ask other people what they do, and learn from their ideas. And don't be afraid to admit something has slipped your mind and ask again; it happens to all of us and people will appreciate your transparency.
The last word
Memories can be trained, and you'll be able to improve your skills with focused effort.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.