Modern etiquette: How to impress, or fail, in work introductions

2010-10-26 00:00

ONE of the most common business needs is one that many of us often stumble over and even fear — making introductions.

I’m not talking about formal, behind-the-podium introductions, but rather face-to-face introductions between you, colleagues, clients and superiors.

While it may seem simple on the surface, very few people, including high-level executives, know how to make a correct introduction.

This simple lack of understanding always surprises me as introductions set the tone for the future of a budding business relationship. Done well, an introduction can serve to reassure a prospective partner or client that he or she is dealing with a seasoned professional.

But if it’s botched, an introduction might also serve as your final sign off.

By following these simple do’s and don’ts of introduction, you’ll put yourself in a good light and those you’re introducing at ease.

DO

• Always introduce yourself, whether it’s a chance meeting for a few seconds or a business dinner lasting several hours. When you introduce yourself first, you establish control of the meeting or encounter, demonstrate initiative and an ability to be direct — all positives in a business situation.

• Always state your name and something about yourself. For example you might say: “Good morning Mr Doe, I’m Harry Smith from Atlas Motors.”

• If you fail to introduce yourself to a newcomer, or fail to introduce those whom you know but who don’t know each other, you demonstrate a lack of leadership.

• Always introduce from the bottom up. That is the “lesser authority” is always introduced to the “higher authority” by saying the higher authority’s name first. For example, a junior executive should be introduced to a senior executive. Similarly, a company executive should be introduced to a client. Clients and customers are always considered more important than someone in your firm, even if the client has a lower rank than your colleague. Example: “Ms Higher Authority, I would like to introduce Mr Lesser Authority from our legal department. Ms Higher Authority is the vice president of human resources.”

• Always highlight the company or position of the individuals you are introducing and, if appropriate, include pertinent information about each. For example you might say: “Mark Stevens, I’d like to introduce John Doe, he’s the senior vice president at ABC Cellphones, and the person to call if you need anything related to cellular phones. John, Mark is president of Stevens Associates, the best PR firm in the country for promoting products.”A descriptive introduction eliminates the inevitable silence that often follows as unfamiliar individuals try to guess what the other does or whether they have anything in common. By providing the information you put each individual at ease and establish an opening for conversation.

• Always stand for introductions. This goes for both men and women and for both business and social occasions. No exceptions.

DON’T

• Never give yourself an honorific such as “I’m Ms Doe” or “I’m Dr Doe”. It falls in the same tasteless category as drinking a toast to one’s self.

• Never assume intimacy due to an introduction. When you meet someone for the first time, you should continue to call him or her by his or her title and last name until invited to be on a first-name basis.

• Never “meet” people. When introducing people, the proper wording is “Mr Doe, I’d like to introduce to you Mr Joe,” and not “Mr Doe, I’d like you to meet Mr Joe.”

• Never respond to an introduction with just “hi” or “hello”. When responding to an introduction, you should always repeat the name of the person you are meeting (i.e. “Hello Mrs Martin”). Adding a courtesy statement such as: “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you” or “How do you do?” is always appreciated.

• Never assume “ladies first” in your introduction. In the business world, gender has no bearing on order of introduction — it’s based on seniority and rank.

As the saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” Knowing that your first impression is a correct one will go a long way towards boosting your professional image and your self-confidence.

• Pamela Eyring is the president and director of The Protocol School of Washington which provides certified professional etiquette and protocol training.

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