How to tell someone you don’t remember them isn’t always easy. Yet it doesn’t have to be upsetting or embarrassing. How you handle the situation will make a difference.
You don’t want to make the other person wish they had never approached you. There are ways for you to get through the situation with both of you feeling good about it!
Don’t let anxiety take over the situation or it will just make it worse. Communicate honestly that you don’t remember them. They may be intimidated by that at first, but you do your best to put them at ease they will feel better about it before you part ways!
When you participate in various events for your job, your community, and your children, you are bound to be hit with this scenario from time to time!
Be honest, be direct, but be classy about it!
Recognize the Face but not the Name
It is common to recognize a face when someone approaches you, but not their name. If you meet lots of people regularly, it will be impossible to remember all of them.
Be honest with them about that fact. There is a good chance they have been in that boat themselves, and they completely understand.
Don’t guess where you know them from, that can blow up in your face!
You don’t want to start talking to them about things that they are clueless about! That is a dead giveaway you don’t remember them but you were pretending you did!
Both of you will be embarrassed at that point and it creates an uncomfortable outcome for the interaction.
What to Say:
“I am sorry; I recognize you and remember us talking at the luncheon. I can’t remember your name though; can you share it with me?”
“I know we have met before, but I can’t place it. Getting older sure is affecting my memory!”
“Please tell me your name again, it has slipped my mind.”
“I am happy to see you here, silly me, I can’t remember your name but I do remember us having a great conversation when we met!”
“I wish I was better with names; I don’t want to call you the wrong one. I remember you but I am just terrible when it comes to names.”
“You look so familiar; it is driving me crazy that I can’t recall your name!”
“I wish we all had name tags here; I struggle to remember names but always recognize the people I have met.”
Can’t Remember how you Met them
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t remember how you met someone! Are they the partner of someone your work with? Did you meet them at a community event?
Perhaps they were at a work meeting you were involved with but now you see them in a different setting. Ask them politely about how you met them.
Listen to what they share with you and focus on those details. Doing so will often help with remembering them quickly!
Once they share something to identify them, let them know. Smile and let them know you do remember. If possible, give some input from that meeting that confirms to them you do remember.
For example, you may remember the lovely dress someone was wearing when you first met them. Perhaps you saw them at a golf tournament and they had that amazing hole-in-one!
What to Say:
“I meet so many people, and I struggle to keep it all straight at times. Can you remind me how we met?”
“Where did you and I connect at before? I am sorry to ask, but I just can’t put my finger on it.”
“Where was the location where you and I were introduced?”
“How do we know each other?”
“Enlighten me about where we met each other.”
“I can’t place how we met, what were we doing?”
No Idea who they are at all!
It can create an uneasy feeling when someone approaches you but you have no idea who they are! Their face isn’t familiar to you, nothing about them triggers a memory, and you don’t know their name.
Do they have the right person? Have they mistaken you for someone else? You may have to put it on the line with this type of scenario, but you can still keep it civil. After all, the other person may be the spouse of your boss!
You don’t want to offend anyone who reaches out to you.
Perhaps it is someone from high school who has changed quite a bit over the years! They recognize you but until they disclose some information you will be in the dark!
What to Say:
“I am drawing a blank about how we know each other?”
“I am sorry, but I don’t recognize you.”
“Have we met before?”
“Can you share how you know me? I can’t place you at the moment.”
“I feel bad saying this but I can’t figure out how I know you.”
“Nothing is coming to mind about meeting you before.”
“Do I know you through my spouse? I don’t recall us meeting before so that may be it?”
Ask Detailed Questions
When someone shares details about your connection, it can help you remember them. People change over time!
Some people change their hair color or they lose/gain lots of weight. Your memory of them doesn’t align with who you see in front of you at that time.
Don’t be shy about asking detailed questions. After all, they approached you!
What to Say:
“How did we meet?”
“How long ago did we get introduced to each other?”
“What do you do?”
“Do we have mutual friends or colleagues?”
“What do you remember about me?”
“I am glad you remember me but I just can’t pinpoint us talking before.”
Can’t make the Connection
Usually, you will remember meeting someone after they talk to you a bit and answer some questions. Occasionally, there can be someone you just can’t make that connection with.
No matter what they share, you aren’t aware of who they are. That can be a tough scenario because you don’t want them to be embarrassed about talking to you!
Do your best to let them know you don’t mind they came over to talk to you, but that you can’t remember the previous introduction.
Ask about them and do your best to help them relax. You don’t want them to make an excuse to walk away because they feel silly about approaching you.
If they did mistake you for someone else, you can both have a good laugh about that!
What to Say:
“I am interested to learn I remind you of someone else!”
“I am truly sorry I don’t remember our first encounter, but I will remember this one!”
“I meet so many people it can be a blur at times. Please don’t be offended that I didn’t remember us previously meeting.”
“I sure wish I could remember that, it just isn’t coming to mind at the moment.”
“I am so sorry; I just can’t place you or that event.”
“I do remember attending that activity, but not us meeting. It was a crazy night for me and I hope you can forgive my lack of memory.”
Smooth it Over
How to tell someone you don’t remember them depends on the situation and how you feel about it. Sometimes, you will have a connection or recognize their face only. As they share details with you and you ask questions, it will all fall into place.
You may have created a stronger impression with them than they did with you, but don’t let that show!
Have a friendly conversation with them. In the end, smooth it over.
Thank them for coming over to talk to you. Tell them you are glad you got a chance to connect and you hope to see them again soon. If it is someone you want to get to know better or someone from your past you would like to catch up with, exchange contact information.
Make sure they feel good at the end of it about reaching out to you!
What to Say:
“I am glad you came over to visit with me; can I get your phone number and email to reach out later?”
“Thanks for jogging my memory; it was really good to see you after all this time!”
“I will have to work on my memory, but thank you for not making me feel embarrassed that I couldn’t remember our previous meeting together.”
“It was fun to talk for a bit, and I am going to remember you next time for sure!”
“You look amazing, and so different from the last time I saw you. I tend to keep the same look and fashion all the time so I am easier to recognize in public!”
“Please forgive me for struggling to remember you at first! You are really a great person to talk to and I hope to see you again!”
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.