MAKE THE RIGHT IMPRESSION
It is definitely an asset to know how to conduct yourself in meeting people in a variety of different professional and social situations. Often, you need to follow certain established protocols when you do so.
To make the best impression, follow these recommendations:
- Be punctual, be punctual, be punctual. If you arrange to meet someone at a specific time, do whatever you have to do to be there exactly on time, regardless of whether it is a social, business or professional occasion. Being late is inexcusable rudeness. When you are late, it sends a message that you think your time is more valuable than the other person’s time and you think it is fine that the other individual waits around for you. Even if the custom in a country is for meetings to start late, arrive on time and bring something to read or work on while you wait.
- It is usually best to err on the side of formality in first meeting people as opposed to being too casual and appearing not to know better.
- Always keep an open mind about any individual whom you are meeting for the first time. Resist jumping to conclusions about whether you should make an effort to get to know someone better. It is always a mistake to make assumptions about an individual based on a superficial stereotype you may have in your mind about that person’s group, ethnicity, nationality or religion. Also, respect the right of other people to have legitimate views and opinions different from your own.
- Treat everyone you meet with the same level of sincerity, interest and goodwill regardless of his or her position or stature. Never adopt either a condescending or a subservient attitude towards anyone. Try to act as naturally as you would in your own living room.
- Do not let yourself get intimidated or feel inferior, regardless of the circumstances, when you are about to meet someone for the first time. If you start doing so, just imagine the other person putting his or her legs, one at a time, into underwear just as you have to do at the start of every morning. As Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, “No one can ever make you feel inferior without your own permission.”
- Always stand up whenever someone is coming over to greet or meet you, including when you are sitting down in a meeting. This applies to both men and women.
- Your body language is an important element in creating the right first impression. As you are walking up to meet someone for the first time, assume a position of excellent posture, face the individual square on, and establish eye contact with that person. If there are just the two of you, introduce yourself by saying, “Hello (or Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening) Mr. _____ (if you know the person’s name), I am Steele Curry.” The other person should respond with something to the effect of “How do you do. I am Tom Smith” (if you did not know his name).
- Whenever you are meeting someone, inject some energy into your greeting and never underestimate the power of a smile to put the other person at ease and make him or her feel pleased to meet you.
It is important to shake hands properly. As the etiquette guru Amy Vanderbilt correctly observed, “People tend to think character matches a handshake.” This is how it should be done:
- Immediately after you have verbally introduced yourself to someone, extend your right hand forward towards that person’s lower chest with your thumb up and fingers facing sideways. As you are doing that, the other person will extend his or her right hand in a similar manner towards you. When the V of your thumb and forefinger has locked with the V in the other person’s extended hand, clasp your hand firmly around the person’s hand and entire palm, and give two or three modest shakes of your arm from the elbow, maintaining a relatively firm grip. Then, unclasp, withdraw your hand, let your arm fall to your side, and step back. All of this should only take about 3 to 4 seconds.
- Both people shaking hands should keep their hands in a vertical, equal position and briefly maintain full contact with the palms of each other’s hands. See Figure 1.
Figure 1: Shaking hands.
- In shaking hands, your grip should err on the firm side as opposed to being limp or alternatively bone crunching. At a minimum, you should squeeze as hard as the other person squeezes your hand. Take care, however, not to hurt the other person’s fingers if he or she is wearing rings on the right hand.
- While shaking hands, look the person directly in the eye from start to finish.
- Former President Bill Clinton is famous for his charm in greeting people. The first time he meets someone, Clinton often clasps the person’s right hand warmly with his left hand as they are shaking hands. The second time he meets that individual, Clinton often clasps the other person’s outside right forearm with his left hand while they are shaking hands. Then, the third time they meet, Clinton places his left hand on the individual’s right shoulder when they shake hands as an expression of his pleasure in again meeting that person.
- The Clinton approach is fine depending on your rapport and the extent to which you are close to the individual you are meeting. There are many cultures in Asia and the Middle East, however, where people do not want to be touched on their bodies by anyone they meet except for shaking hands. Some Western Europeans may also find the Clinton style of greeting to be excessive. People in junior positions should not use the Clinton approach with those who are senior to them.
- It is usually appropriate to shake hands when a transaction or business negotiation has been concluded and when you are departing from a business or social function. In Western and some other countries, it is now common for men and women of all ages to shake hands when they first meet or are being introduced. If you are a man, just because you are shaking hands with a woman, do not do so with a limp grip. Again, always stand up to shake someone’s hand and whenever you are being introduced to a person, regardless of whether you are a man or woman.
- If you are first meeting an individual with a disability who cannot shake your right hand, shake the person’s left hand. If this is not possible, nod your head or lightly touch the individual on the arm or shoulder to acknowledge him or her, making eye contact as you do so.
- In place of shaking hands, it is increasingly common in some Western countries for friends to hug (in the case of men) or lightly kiss each other on one or both cheeks (men with women, and women with women) when they meet socially. In Greece, Turkey and some countries in the Middle East, good male friends also sometimes greet each other by lightly kissing both cheeks. If you are not sure what is appropriate, wait for the other person to initiate this form of greeting. In France, Italy and Germany, men sometimes lightly kiss the extended right hand of a woman instead of shaking hands. It is best to leave this gesture to Europeans as opposed to trying it yourself.
- As an alternative to shaking hands, some people prefer “the fist bump” where two individuals reach out and just bump the fists of their right hands together. In some cultures, coming to a stop and bowing with your head towards the person you are meeting is the preferred form of greeting over a handshake. To show greater respect, a variation of that is clasping your two hands together over your chest in a prayer position as you bow.
Part of making a positive first impression is handling introductions properly. Follow these practices:
- If you are walking up to a group of people you do not know, introduce yourself first to the oldest or most senior person (in terms of position held) and then to the other people around that person, starting with his or her “partner”. If you have previously met someone in the group, approach that person and say in a friendly manner, “Hello Serena, we’ve met. I am Steele Curry.” When you are making the introductions, also remember to introduce clients and customers first to the others present.
- Whenever you are introduced to someone, respond by saying either: “How do you do, Mrs. Jones?” or “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Jones.” By always saying the individual’s name in this way, it helps you to remember it. People always pay more attention when you use their name in meeting them and in conversations with them.
- If you go to a meeting or social event and encounter someone you have only met a couple of times beforehand, it is always a good idea to reintroduce yourself by saying, “Hello Mrs. Jones. I am George Lee. It’s good to see you again (or something to that effect).” This avoids embarrassing Mrs. Jones if she cannot remember your name. Never say, “We’ve met before. Don’t you remember my name?”
- When you are in a situation of having to introduce two people to each other, present the person with a lesser title to the person with a higher title, or the younger person to the older person, by saying to the latter person, “Mr. Smith, this is George Lee,” using that person’s full name. And then, turn to Lee and say, “George, this is Mr. Smith.” At this time, the two individuals should shake hands. If you wish, you can expand the introduction by saying, “Mr. Smith, this is my husband (or my business partner or my assistant), George Lee.” Generally, men are introduced to women in social situations.
- Often when you are introducing two people, it is helpful to add some additional information relating to each of the individuals to enable them to have an easier time of initiating a conversation with each other afterwards. As an example, you could say “Joe just got back from a trip to Japan” or “Joan’s in charge of operations at our company.”
- Always introduce your companion or spouse whenever you are meeting someone. If you are caught in a situation where you cannot remember someone’s name, your partner should interject and say, “Hello, I’m Stella Jones,” and extend her hand to be shaked. The other person will usually respond by saying “Hello” back and state his or her name.
- If you and your companion are approaching a group for the purpose of introducing one of yourselves to members of that group, wait until there is a break in their conversation to step up and make the introduction as opposed to appearing rude by interrupting their conversation to do so.
- Always try to keep your opening words on a friendly, positive and gracious note when you first meet someone. Examples are “Thank you for inviting us, Mr. Jones” or “I appreciate you taking the time to meet with us today” or “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
After an introductory conversation or at the end of business meetings, it is usually appropriate to exchange business cards so all parties are clear on the correct spelling of names, the specific positions of each person, and the details on how to reach each other afterwards, whether by phone, fax or e-mail. Treat business cards in this manner:
- Rather than just asking someone for his or her business card, it is best to say, “Here’s my business card. Do you have a business card that I may have?”
- When you are handed someone’s business card, always be sure to treat it with respect. Look at the business card and then place it right-side up in front of you if you are sitting at a table or hold it for a few minutes if you are standing. Do not immediately put it in your pocket, bend it or write on it.
- If you are handing out your business card to a group, extend it face upward in your right hand to the person of highest rank or title first.
- It is best to include your e-mail address on your business card. As you are handed someone’s business card, you may want to check to see if it has the person’s e-mail address on it. If you think you may need to contact that individual via e-mail at some time in the future and his or her card is missing this information, ask: “Would it be possible to also have your e-mail address? Mine is on my card.” It is then permissible to write this information on the person’s business card.
- If you are going to a country with a different language from your own for any important meetings, it is always advisable to have your business cards printed with your information on the reverse side in that language. When you hand out your card in that country, hand it out with the foreign language side facing upward.
Everyone gets somewhat nervous at the thought of going to a reception, business meeting or social event where lots of people are going to be present. When you attend such gatherings, keep these points in mind:
- As you are first entering the room where a large reception, business meeting or social function is being held, always pause at the entrance to look over the room and get your bearings on where you should go next. Usually, you should start by walking over to the host, introduce yourself and your partner (“Hello, Mr. Smith. I’m George Lee and this is Sue Jones”), shake the host’s hand, and thank him or her for including the two of you in the event. After doing so, gradually work your way around the room, saying hello to anyone you know and introducing yourself to those you have not met before.
- Bring lots of your business cards whenever you attend large business gatherings. Keep your cards in one pocket or case and the ones given to you in another pocket to avoid fumbling around. At such events, always try to meet as many new people as you can. Find out what each person’s special expertise or field of knowledge is. Attempt to discover areas of common interest or to exchange mutually valuable information. Afterwards, when you are alone, make notes on the back of each individual’s business card regarding the key points you learned about that person for possible use later.
- At conferences and receptions, look for individuals on their own and introduce yourself to them. This is a much easier way of meeting new people than walking up to a group of strangers. Maintain eye contact when you are talking to someone as opposed to looking around the room at other people when you are engaged in a conversation.
- If you are at a large event in a crowded room, attempt to move around the room, taking advantage of opportunities to meet and talk to as many people as possible, as opposed to spending a disproportionate amount of time talking to only a few people. Also, do not monopolize the time of the featured guests at such an event.
- When you are asked to prepare your own name tag at a function, print your first name in large, legible letters and then put your last name underneath in smaller letters. You can usually skip writing in your title or the name of your organization. Wear your name tag on the right upper part of your jacket or shirt to make it easy for people to read when you are shaking hands.
- If you are drinking or eating at a reception, carry your glass, cup or plate in your left hand so you can shake hands with your right hand. Avoid eating any foods that are messy or difficult to handle without spilling sauces on your face or clothes.
Addressing people properly can be tricky. To do so, follow these suggestions:
- Knowing when to call people by their first names is a sensitive issue. In the case of peers and individuals of your generation age-wise or younger, use their first names. When you first meet people who are a generation or more older than you, it is usually best to call them by their last names prefaced by Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss. After you get to know such individuals better, you may end up on more familiar terms with them. Some people may volunteer a request that you call them by their first names. Alternatively, if a person is acting friendly towards you, sometimes you can ask, “May I call you by your first name?”, particularly if you notice that other people of your age are on a first-name basis with that person. It is always better, however, to err on the formal side with individuals in senior positions or those who are much older than yourself.
- With women, the use of “Ms.” versus “Mrs.” or “Miss” can be another sensitive issue. Generally, use “Miss” for unmarried females under 19 years old and those over say 55 who do not hold a business or professional position. Increasingly, women between the ages of about 20 and 55 prefer to be referred to as “Ms.” especially in business and professional occupations, regardless of whether or not they are married.
- Never use Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss or your title when you are introducing yourself to someone.
- When you are conversing with individuals who hold a high position in an organization or government and you are uncertain about using their name or how to address them, refer to them as “Sir” or “Ma’am” (which is short for “Madame”). In the case of a person who is or once was an ambassador, governor, judge, prime minister, senator or high-ranking military official, address the individual by his or her title and last name, such as “General Jones, I’m pleased to meet you.”
- It is a huge advantage to be able to remember people’s names. Calling people by their names when you meet them again sends a positive message that you care enough about them that you went to the effort of remembering their names.
- When you are first introduced to someone, clear your mind and really pay attention to hearing that person’s name. Then, repeat his or her name in your return greeting and play a game with yourself by looking for some dominant physical characteristic of that individual that you can use to make an association with the person’s name. This technique will usually help you to recall that individual’s name. Alternatively, link the person’s name in your mind with a number, letter, color, location or animal. It is always much easier to remember something if you have given it some form of a visual association previously.
- Look over the list of people attending a function beforehand, if one is available, to refresh your memory and start your mind thinking about the attendees’ names. Make this a part of doing your homework before attending events such as conferences, receptions and seminars.
You have to make an effort to “break the ice” when you first meet someone. Do not rely on the other person to start or carry the conversation. Be prepared to take the initiative. Here are some pointers for doing so:
- If you know who you are going to be meeting, it often is worthwhile giving some thought beforehand to questions you would like to raise with that person. The easiest way to get a conversation rolling is to encourage someone to talk about his or her primary non-work “passion”, cause or hobby.
- Outside of the U.S. and Canada, it is considered impolite to ask someone whom you have just met at a social function, “What do you do?” or other similar direct personal questions. Be resourceful enough to think of other subjects you can discuss in a conversation with that individual. The best approach in this regard is to ask a question about something that you know the person is especially interested in or knowledgeable about. Alternatively, ask about a recent trip someone has taken or what the individual thinks about a particular topical issue in the current news. Do not bore people by talking on and on about your own children or pets.
- When you know ahead of time that you are going to be meeting anyone of consequence, it is always a good idea to Google the person’s name to obtain some background information about the individual beforehand. This will enable you to be much better prepared for your meeting.
Whenever you receive a formal invitation marked “RSVP” to attend any type of event, the “RSVP” designation means that you are being asked to send back an answer regarding whether or not you are going to attend. Either way, you need to answer this invitation explicitly and promptly, preferably within 3-5 days. Quite often, a pre-addressed and stamped envelope and form will be attached to the invitation to make it easy for you to reply.
Some invitations will also include next to your name the words “and Guest”. This means that you are permitted to bring to the special occasion your partner providing that this is someone to whom you are married, engaged or in a long-term relationship with. It generally does not mean that you can bring a friend or date with you to the event. If you decide to accept the invitation to bring "a Guest", however, include the name of this person when you answer the RSVP invitation (e.g., “I will be bringing Monica Jones”).
In addition to stating what the event is about (e.g., a wedding, reception or party), the starting time and its location, such invitations will usually indicate your expected dress (see Dressing For Formal Occasions
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When you receive a wedding invitation, you are expected to send a wedding present to the bride and groom regardless of whether you attend the wedding ceremony and event. The size or cost of your wedding present largely depends on the closeness of your relationship with those getting married, plus your own financial circumstances.
The best type of present reflects your having made an effort to think of a beautiful, unique item that ideally ties into something that the bride or groom has a special interest in. Alternatively, check on whether the couple has set up a wedding registry at any gift stores. This will give examples of items that the bride and groom would like to receive as presents. Alternatively, you always have the option of sending a cash present or a gift card from one of the stores where the couple has registered.
Wedding presents typically range in value from $50 to $350. You are expected to send your present with an enclosed card or note within two months of the wedding taking place.
Be sensitive to differences in accepted social customs and manners when you travel or meet individuals of another culture. Devout Muslims, for example, generally think it is incorrect for men to shake hands with women. Persons from East Asia sometimes shake hands limply and initially may avoid eye contact as a sign of deference. Japanese usually greet each other by bowing as opposed to shaking hands. Try to know beforehand what is expected so you can avoid making any unnecessary social blunders.
When you are visiting a country where the customs differ considerably from those that you are used to, everyone there will know that you are not a local. Do not try to mimic the manners of the residents of that country. Follow your own sense of good manners, exercise some restraint and demonstrate that you respect the customs of your host country.