Why Remembering Names Helps to Create Deeper Relationships w/ Kai Stabell

The importance of remembering someone’s name? It really sets you apart - as having paid attention.
— Kai Stabell, Founder of C4CCR and an Engage Contributor

“We like the sound of our own name.”

As soon as Kai Stabell, founder of the Consortium for Conversational Conflict Resolution, said this, I had a hunch as to where he was going. He wasn’t implying that we all love our given names (cause that isn’t true, is it?). We were about to go deep into the psychology of familiarity, and conditioning - and the automatic response that comes with hearing our name.


As Kai continued, he elaborated on this idea: the sound of our name cuts through all the noise around us. We’ve been conditioned to recognize and respond to it - like the way we alert and check our phones when we hear a ringtone that’s similar to our own. Or how you all turn towards me at the sound of the toy service bell that I use at the commencement of each Engage Over Coffee. :-)

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Side note: using that bell always reminds me of freshman Psychology when I learned about the Pavlovian response, (or classical conditioning).


The truth is, our name is the most important word (to our brain) in our vocabulary.

And, as a result, we know that remembering a person's name is important. It’s why we experience so much guilt when we can’t remember someone’s name. We haven’t forgotten them…right?!

As a Connector, I know that remembering people’s names is important, because they remark on how impressive it is when I remember their name out of all the people I know and have met. I know this is a natural talent I have and that it comes much more naturally for me than for most people. But as I meet more and more people, remembering is requiring a more focused effort and it’s a skill that I’m having to develop and work even harder at than before.


Kai helped me:

  1. realize what I was already (unknowingly) doing that was making it easier for me to remember people’s names, and

  2. learn what else I could be doing to level up this little skill that I depend on oh so very much.


Tip from the Founder

Bring a notebook to Engage Over Coffee

I’m seeing people bring notebooks in greater numbers to Engage Over Coffee. The details people are sharing about their lives are inspiring and actionable, and people don’t want to forget what they’ve heard or who they’ve met!

Kai Tactic Numero UNO

(sorry, that’s not Norweigan. That’s the influence of my Texas upbringing and affinity for Spanish showing.)

When having a conversation with someone, write down three things:

  • the person’s first name

  • last name, and

  • something about them.

It took Kai telling me this little trick before I realized that is exactly what I do on or before every phone call or in-person meeting, in my handy-dandy notebook (not an affiliate link - just my favorite notebook). I just thought it was for my future reference to easily find all my chicken scratch, and possible items of follow up from the conversation. I hadn’t realized how much it was increasing the likelihood of proper recall (another psychologically specific term).

And since so many of us struggle with recalling someone’s name that we forgive it easily in others.

“Gosh, you meet so many people, I don’t expect you to remember.”

“Oh, it was so long ago and only for a minute.”

“You were dealing with a lot in that moment, I don’t expect you to remember my name.”

And it’s why, if you can recall someone’s name, it is one of the most impactful things you can do when building meaningful connections.

When you see someone a second time and remember their name, they feel important and respected.

“When people use your name, you know you’re the center of attention.”

Kai Tactic Numero Dos

You can ask someone their name a few times, but at a certain point, you’re going to be seen as not having paid attention.

It could lose you a business deal, some other engagement...

Therefore, remembering someone’s name is critical.
— Kai Stabell

Associate something - with the someone.


“People normally tell you their name when you’re least ready to absorb it.”

I love learning something new and this was an exciting new tidbit for me - that made so much sense. If I can understand why it’s a problem, then I can work on figuring out how to solve for it.


As Kai points out, when we meet someone for the first time, we are navigating, identifying, recognizing, and processing so much stimuli:

  • oh, someone is walking over to me, I’ll need to come back to what I was doing in a bit.

  • shift mindset and remember the manners my mother taught me.

  • they have a nice smile; remember to smile back

  • do they seem like a jovial person or a more subtle, intelligent type?

  • do I shake their hand, or are they a hugger?

  • introduce myself and say my name - do I also say “what I do?”

  • should I introduce them to the person I am standing next to?

  • are they wearing a nametag I can actually read so I can “hear” their name correctly?

  • the room is a bit loud, can I hear them well?

With so many things going on during the initial moments of this greeting, it’s no wonder we forget a person’s name almost immediately after they’ve said it.

“We are visually better at remembering.”

It’s no wonder people say “I’m better with faces.”

Recognition is easier than recall. It’s why we prefer multiple choice questions over open ended questions.

So, how to do cut past all the distractions?



Knowing that human beings are highly visual, we can remember names by associating names with something about them - a visual clue. For example, Kai is wearing a red tie during his interview, so a visual association could be “Kai wears a red tie” - Kai and tie.

Now I’ve heard this idea before but always found it too be too difficult to come up with some naming/rhyming scheme while I was trying to hear them, read their body language, pick up on all the clues to who this person is and what they want from me or me from them in our interaction.

So, where I’d ask you to stretch is by focusing on listening. Really listening to the story they are telling you.


And this is where Engage is making some little moments of magic happen.

We nametag you in a very specific way to make it easier to have the visual clue for spelling, and we put your first name in a large, bold font. We facilitate the conversations with a prompt that makes sure you get to the deeper stories, faster, easier. We remember the stories people tell us, and our minds create visuals as people tell us their stories.

So take advantage of the prompts, the nametags, bring a paper and pen, and turn your listening ears on.

It takes awareness of the problem and practice to develop a new or stronger skill. I’m grateful to Kai for the increased awareness and tactics for approaching the problem, and I hope you’ll take advantage of Engage Over Coffee for some upcoming practice on your developing skill.

- Brooke



For your next conversation with someone new, try to associate something visual with their name to see if that helps you remember their name for the next time you meet.


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