First impressions

So, when meeting someone or corresponding with someone for the first time, is it better to say “I recognize you!” when you’re not quite sure and risk being wrong than to not acknowledge the possible previous contact and risk the other person remembering (or discovering) that you’ve met before?

The question comes up because I just responded to a post on the EFA Job List (great member benefit, y’all) by a researcher in behavioral economics. I recently took a course by Dan Ariely of Duke University on this subject and I thought her name sounded familiar, but didn’t want to spend time looking through course materials because these jobs always go quickly — there are so many qualified people who respond. Anyway, I mentioned I had taken Ariely’s course.

After sending my reply, I looked at this researcher’s list of publications, and there it was — she has collaborated with Ariely. I’m almost sure she was in one of the class videos, and if not, her work was certainly mentioned.

Should I have started my response with “I recognize you!” even though I wasn’t absolutely sure? It would not have gotten me the assignment (which was filled before I answered), but I would probably have made a better impression, and perhaps given her some pleasure.

Is there a downside to taking a chance? Say I’m on an e-mail discussion group for editors and there’s a Jane Smith in the group. I’m at an editing workshop and run into a person wearing a Jane Smith name tag. I extend my hand and say, “Jane Smith, great to finally meet you in person!” But it’s not the Jane Smith from the list. Would Jane’s initial pleasure of being so warmly greeted outweigh the befuddlement of not knowing what I’m talking about?

And say I run into “the” Jane Smith, but I can’t remember if the person in the group spells her name Jane or Jayne, and not being 100% sure I don’t say anything. Then a third person comes up to us and says, “Surely you know each other from the list,” and I’m embarrassed and feel compelled to explain why I didn’t say something sooner.

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Lots of people claim to recognize me. I’ve often been perplexed by their exclamations of pleasure in meeting me again, but never offended. On the other hand, I don’t like having to remind someone who doesn’t remember me that we’ve already met or even worked together in the past.

Sigh. It’s only a thought experiment, not a real experiment, but I guess I have my answer. Too bad there are no do-overs with first impressions.