Civility costs nothing and buys everything.
- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Courtesy begins with introductions. If an introduction is mismanaged, there is a strong possibility that the emerging business relationship will also be subject to problems. That is why you must start right away to build a strong foundation for your new business relationships.
It probably comes as no surprise to you to learn that the initial phase of a business relationship can have extraordinary effects on careers - and on whole organizations. But who hasn't felt at least a little awkward during a business introduction? Fortunately, a few simple principles can have a dramatic, positive effect on the way you meet and greet new business associates. This chapter has eight simple principles that will help you make sure those all-important initial encounters with clients, customers, vendors, and others go as smoothly as they possibly can.
Put the ideas in this chapter into practice, and you'll have laid the groundwork for managing - and minimizing - any and all future problems. That may seem like an exaggerated claim, but the truth is that business breakthroughs are built on alliances, and alliances are built on relationships. By initiating relationships in the right way, you make later breakthroughs possible!
Just as you often judge other people by the initial impact they have on you, so are you likely to be judged yourself in the first few moments of interacting with someone. Here are some tips for making a great first impression with colleagues and business associates:
People who have what I call "minglephobia" - a discomfort with initiating small talk at social gatherings - are often "cured" when someone else starts up the discussion. Here's a simple way to encourage others to launch the conversation at your next cocktail party, office gathering, or business event.
Have you ever entered a room filled with strangers and thought to yourself, "I can't approach any of these people!"? Guess what? You don't have to. Rather than wasting time or energy feeling uncomfortable, take control. When you find yourself standing alone, look for the nearest window. No - don't jump! Simply get yourself a beverage, then stroll over to the window. Rather than looking out the window, stand with your back against it. (Having a glass of something to hold will put you at ease and make you look approachable.)
When others are ready to begin a new conversation, they are more likely to approach individuals like you - people who are standing in front of a source of natural light. It's true: just as plants bend toward natural light, so do people!
In most situations, the basics of introductions are easy to master: Mention the name of the higher-status person first. But what if there is no higher-status person? When introducing two clients to each other, both of whom are on the same professional level, whose name should be said first?
I recommended that you say the name of the person you know least well first. By doing this, you will bring that person into the conversation and allow him or her to feel more at ease.
If you have ever had a strong positive or negative reaction to someone based on the firmness or weakness of the person's handshake, then you already know how important this one small gesture can be. A limp handshake can tag you as someone who is hesitant or lacking in resolution. An overpowering shake can brand you as a manipulator. A sincere, confident grip conveys confidence and authority.
Beware! People from different parts of the country expect a variety of distances between two individuals who are greeting each other. When interacting with contacts from out-of-town, try to let the other person's "space instincts" guide your approach to the handshake.
Here are a few tips for knowing how to offer a good handshake that also maintains a proper distance:
If you are going to another country, try to learn what the customs are there for shaking hands. In some nations it is considered polite to shake upon meeting and leaving; not doing so may give offense. For some, handshakes should be firm, for others they should be aggressive, and for still others, where there is a "caste" system, you should shake hands only with persons of a certain standing. Some countries frown on shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex. Finally, there are some social systems where the greeting is not a handshake but a bow of some sort. The more you learn about the specific customs governing these forms of greeting people, the easier it will be for you to get along, no matter what country you are in. (See the appendix for additional information on international etiquette.)
When you are about to extend your hand to someone who is unable to offer you a right hand, what should you do? The first rule is - follow the other person's lead. When dealing with a person whose right hand or arm is clearly disabled, avoid reaching for that hand and pumping it energetically!
Whatever the reason for the other person's incapacity, you should issue a verbal greeting, pause, and then observe the appropriate body language and act accordingly. In some cases, the person may offer you the left hand. In other instances, the person may initiate a handshake with the right hand. The most important thing in this scenario is to let the other person set the tone.
It has happened to all of us. You refer to an important client's company by his competitor's name. Or you are giving an important presentation and you make a serious misstatement. Or a gaffe you've made is pointed out to you in front of a large group.
Sooner or later, you will find yourself in an embarrassing situation that exposes you to possible ridicule or necessitates some backpedaling. Take heart: You are not alone! Blunders are a part of life. What matters is not that you've committed a faux pas (that's French for "misstep"), but how you handle the mistake.
Think of the situation as though it were a baseball game: An error in the field may put you behind, however, if you keep your composure, you can hit a home run in your very next at-bat and win the game.
Following are some suggested solutions for winning in embarrassing situations.
The next time someone shares constructive (or even other-than-constructive!) criticism, don't respond with an automatic "I'm sorry." Instead, consider employing one of the following responses:
All of these are, to my way of thinking, much more professional ways of responding than "I'm sorry," which can come across as emotional and even a bit servile. The phrase "Thank you," on the other hand, is both appropriate and optimistic, and it reinforces the positive intent of the person who passed along the criticism.
Any, repeat any, gaffe can be turned into a positive experience if it's handled with grace and wit. People remember poise! With the right approach, you won't be remembered as the person who made that mortifying blunder before a roomful of people. Instead, you'll be thought of as the person who saved the day with on-your-feet thinking and a great deal of charm!
It has happened to all of us: Somebody comes up to you, greets you by name, and talks at length about how great it is to see you - and you can't place him in the least. The face may be familiar to you, but the person's name and the setting where you met eludes you completely. This situation is embarrassing, but also quite common. Believe me, it can be handled with tact and grace.
Rule number one: Do not ask, "Who are you?" Rather, respond in kind and let the person know you are glad to see him/her. One way of refreshing your memory is to ask the person what has been going on since you last talked. His or her response may reveal something (that is, a company, a professional association, or a meeting) that will trigger the memory of how you know this person, and perhaps even his or her name.
If you still can't remember the person's name as you are talking, be cordial and simply avoid using a name of any kind. After the conversation has ended, sound out a colleague - or someone else who may have witnessed the meeting - and ask if they can help you to remember the name. (Of course, the other person may realize your predicament and, having been there himself or herself, may willingly - and sensitively - help you out by reminding you of the name.)
When it is finally revealed to you, jot down the name to help you remember it in the future and send the person a note saying that you enjoyed seeing him or her. This gesture will compensate for any discomfort associated with your not using a name when you saw each other last.
How important is taking the effort to get another person's name right?
Consider the following story. A friend of mine told me of the time he met then-Senator John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was a man who simply refused to say, "I've forgotten your name"! The senator approached my friend while they were both in the bathroom and then explained that he'd forgotten the name of someone who was waiting for him at a gathering outside. Did my friend have any ideas? Fortunately, my friend was able to provide the name of the gentleman in question, and the rest of the evening went smoothly for the senator from Massachusetts and his "old acquaintance"!
Here's another strategy for getting people to reintroduce themselves to you. As the person nears you, simply welcome him or her with a handshake and your name... without saying another word. By simply saying your name after extending your hand, more often than not, the person will reintroduce himself or herself to you. Try it!
Besides helping you to refamiiarize yourself with this person, this strategy will turn what could be an awkward moment an extremely pleasant experience. It will put both you and the person you are meeting at ease. Remember, there's a chance that this person has forgotten your name!
One of the most common business etiquette errors is to address individuals by their first names without the other person's (stated or implicit) permission to do so. This has become an increasingly common practice in these less formal times. Although many people have no problem moving to a "casual" conversational mode more or less instantly with new acquaintances, this practice is still unacceptable in the minds of many people in a business setting.
Moving to a first-name basis before the other person is ready to do so is an especially poor policy to pursue during telephone conversations with customers and prospects. Common courtesy dictates that you wait until you are invited to address a telephone contact by his or her first name - especially if the "someone" is an individual you're speaking to for the very first time. Staying with "Mr./Mrs./ Ms. Smith" during phone conversations, until you're invited to use the first name, is a sound, polite business practice that should be followed at all times.
In other settings, the rule of thumb is a little more complicated. If you are meeting someone for the first time, and the other person is either prominent within his or her field or at least two decades older than you, then you should use "Mr./Mrs./Ms." and then the last name. (In other words, even though Tiger Woods may be younger than you are, you should address him as Mr. Woods; even though Bert Rodriguez, the elderly man who delivers your mail, is not the head of the U.S. Postal Service, you should address him as Mr. Rodriguez.)
Whatever you do, refrain from asking someone permission to use a first name. Use the last name until you are directed to do otherwise. If the person wants you to move to this level of familiarity, rest assured that you'll hear about it!
During a first-time meeting, you may, as a general rule, request a business card from the other person - provided that you've offered your own card first. One exception: If the person you're speaking with is of significantly higher status (say, more than one level above your position), you should wait for the person to offer you his or her card, rather than ask for one. (If the senior person wants you to have a card, it will be offered to you!) Bear in mind that the more seasoned a businessperson is, the less likely he or she will be to distribute business cards or to ask for them.
You should give only one business card to your contact - rather than leaving two or three. Your contact may interpret this gesture as a request from you to "broker your service. Tacky! Keep the emphasis on person-to-person contact.