Long ago, the famous poet Oscar Wilde said: “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” Today, in the toughest, most competitive arenas, knowing which fork to use and when is important, and speaks volumes about our social skills.
In today’s global and multicultural environment, having an area of expertise simply isn’t enough. The pendulum has finally swung in the direction of civility. The ability to get along with others, to demonstrate good manners, and to make others feel comfortable has become increasingly important to career success. How you behave is reflective not just of you personally: It can heighten or dim the image of your organization as well.
We are all judged by our appearance and behavior. A customer who feels comfortable with you is likely to buy your company’s product or services, while a customer who feels uncomfortable may not know the reason for his or her discomfort but will not want to place an order. More business deals are lost to faux pas than you may realize!
How many people do you know who dress to impress while failing to impress in other ways? People who lack social skills are often stalled in their career advancement. They may appear awkward and even rude, and are as out of fashion as a leisure suit. Furthermore, companies today may ease out employees who don’t have social skills.
The Importance of Introductions
Research shows that people form 90 percent of their opinion of another person in the first ninety seconds—that’s powerful! Introductions create enduring impressions. Making introductions is one of the most important skills of everyday life, yet many people perform this act incorrectly. They forget names, confuse positions, and generally get their social interactions off to a poor start. If you are a businessperson, knowing how to make a correct introduction—without hesitation—allows you to concentrate on what is most important: the business at hand.
How many times have you been at an event where you were the one person in a group who was not introduced? Even when you have forgotten someone’s name, it’s better to ask for his or her name than to let that person stand in a group and be ignored. Failing to introduce someone cannot help but go unnoticed and cause embarrassment to you and discomfort to those around you. Being savvy with your introductions will allow you to be self-confident in every encounter. We are all human, and we all make mistakes, but it’s how we recover from our mistakes that is the key to success. Good manners are all about making others feel comfortable no matter the situation, so the first impression you create will be a lasting one.
For a powerful presence, always stand for introductions and extend a hand. If the group is large, say hello only to those nearest you. It’s not necessary to work the entire room like a politician. In group situations, always introduce yourself when you notice that the other person seems unable to remember your name. Simply say, “Ms. Hill, I’m Lisa Grotts from human resources.” Avoid comments such as “You don’t remember me, do you, Ms. Hill?” Using courteous words will help you project your image as a pleasant and considerate person. If you’re harsh, critical, or tactless, no one will want to work with you, and the resulting tension will hamper your efficiency and creativity. Let’s face it, people like to do business with people they like, and with good reason, since we all spend a great deal of time in the workplace.
Who gets introduced to whom in business is determined by pecking order. Gender is not a consideration in business introductions. You should always say the most important person’s name first, and introduce the others present to him or her. In other words, the person with the highest rank is introduced first. For example, “Madame President, this is Madame Vice President,” or “Mr. [senior executive], this is Mr. [junior executive].” If both people hold equal positions, it doesn’t matter whose name is spoken first. “Charlotte Smith, this is Matthew Jones,” or vice versa.
Social introductions are based on chivalry. They are made according to age, gender and social status. A man is still introduced to a woman. The first name spoken should be that of the older or more distinguished person, while the second name spoken should be the person being presented. For instance, “Mr. Ambassador, may I present Ms. Hill,” or “Mr. [older man], may I present Mr. [younger man].” These examples show how we give deference based on age.
The Golden Rule of Introductions is to always to introduce yourself at any business or social function, unless you’re greeting royalty! (That’s another blog).
In the course of your professional career, you will find yourself at cocktail parties and conventions, at breakfast meetings and in boardrooms, and at lunches and dinners. You will be called upon to demonstrate your professional polish time after time. Good manners don’t cost a dime, but bad ones can be very costly. If you treat everyone with consideration and tact, the world will be your oyster, and you will be using the right fork.