What is the best strategy for continuing a conversation when the other person clearly knows who you are but you can’t remember anything about this person — or why you should know him or her — for the life of you?
Lydia (20, Waterloo, ON)
One time I walked into a TV store and said to my brother, “Hey that’s my friend’s fiancé! I didn’t know he worked here!” A few minutes later I (thankfully) realized that I had never met this man, nor would he have any clue who I was if I went up and began a conversation with him. I merely recognized his face from Instagram.
That is an entirely true (and creepy) story. I’m a face rememberer. It’s a blessing and a curse. I usually know stuff about people even if they know nothing about me. I understand what these types of awkward conversations feel like, but I’m usually on the other end of them.
Let’s face it — we live in a culture that has made these types of interactions very commonplace. If you’re on the receiving end of a conversation with a face rememberer, it can be quite startling. It doesn’t have to be, though.
My best piece of advice? Fake it without faking it.
Smile and nod and be engaged in conversation, even if you are horribly confused or bewildered. I’m all for honesty and being straightforward, but if you find yourself in a situation where small talk is involved, being polite is the way to go. If someone is clearly invested in the conversation, it would be terribly rude to blurt out, “I’m sorry, who are you?” You don’t want to run the risk of hurting someone with your bluntness. You can keep the fact that you don’t have a clue who this person is under wraps and still have a genuine conversation. You can fake it without faking it.
The best way to do this is to ask open-ended questions. My favourite go-to neutral question in a situation like this is, “So what have you been up to these days?” It keeps it wide open and provides an opportunity for the other person to talk. Then you get to play detective. You can run through a list of places where you could have met. You could stumble across what he or she does for a living. (“Remind me again where you’re working now?”) Listen for clues that might trigger background knowledge about his or her life.
If a little bit of information is offered, continue to ask follow up questions and keep the person talking. It will lead you to more information. More information will hopefully help you put the pieces together. Asking questions is how you would get to know someone new, anyway. This person is essentially new, so ask away.
Our brains store a lot of information. Sometimes we need to give ourselves time to retrieve it. We interact with many people on a daily basis and are constantly processing loads of information. There is nothing disingenuous about forgetting someone. It doesn’t make you a horribly disengaged human being; it’s just life. We can’t all be good at math and we can’t all be face or name rememberers. But we can get better at small talk. Be kind, stay engaged, and try your best to Veronica Mars that situation.
Oh, and as soon as you are finished talking to the person in question, call your mom. She’ll have answers.
I’m pretty terrible at math,
Photo (Flickr CC) by Chris.