Decision-Making: Process and Culture
I travel every week of the year. I meet thousands of potential entrepreneurs who are eager to learn wealth-building concepts. I also meet scores of highly successful and respected business leaders, some who are icons in their field. One of the surprises in all my travels is to experience how few people know what used to be the common graces of greeting another person. Certainly, I have learned that there are many unique cultural differences, but I’m not talking about those customs; I am talking about the general art of meeting and greeting people. I felt my experiences warranted my addressing it in a blog.
It is evident to me that this modern era of social media has hurt us in social graces. People are more comfortable with a glass screen than an actual person, and their discomfort shows they have not been properly trained how to mingle with and move among their own kind. The basic skills of shaking hands and approaching people and introducing people seems to have gone the way of the day when all sales were face-to-face and door-to-door. Back in the days before cell phones, Skype and video conferences. Back in the days when first impressions were known to be lasting impressions and young business wannabes were instructed how to dress for success, how to smile, how to shake hands and how to put their best foot forward.
I know that today’s writers, along with many social warriors, decry the loss of civility, and they are right. But along with the coarseness of our society with its vulgar speech and shout downs, we have also lost the dignity of personhood, and it shows in all levels of society. Not only have we grown angry and disrespectful of law-enforcement officers and authority figures, but we are disrespectful of one another.
Allow me to give a primer on common respect in the business arena, especially with regards to how we meet and greet each other.
1. Respect the personhood of everyone, regardless if they are the waiter/waitress, the baggage handler, the Uber driver, the ticket agent, the maid who cleans your hotel room – every single person! Respect their time, their work, their body, their personal space, their dignity and their feelings.
2. You are no better than anyone on this planet. And no one is better than you.
3. Show respect and deference to all, just as you would have them show respect to you.
4. The more notable a person is, the more he or she must show humility and avoid the arrogance and presumptuousness of title and position.
5. At the same time, due respect and honor should be shown to those who have earned such respect. Young wannabes should not act with arrogance or rudeness any more than great achievers should.
6. When meeting someone, look them in the eye and try to convey a genuine warmth through your eye contact. A physical way to do this is to open your eyes slightly wider when meeting someone. Let them see your “open countenance”. I’m not talking about bug-eyed, just a little smiling with the eyes that opens them and shows warmth. Eye contact acknowledges the person as a fellow human and shows them respect. I realize that in some cultures eye contact is not permitted when meeting someone of a higher class or order, but when you meet a fellow-business person, eye contact is very important. Don’t let your eyes wander to any part of their body. A person who won’t meet my eyes reveals something weak and out of order in that person. A person who avoids my look tells me they are hiding something from me, are insincere, or are too fearful. Even a child can hold eye contact with an adult; so when I meet an adult who can’t, it tells me much about that person.
7. A good firm handshake is appropriate for both men and women. Old traditions suggested that men or the person of greater position should initiate the handshake, but that is less important in today’s world. The handshake is thousands of years old and is rooted in the days when weapons and armor were customary to carry. Men would greet another by sheathing their swords, their open hand thus signifying that they had no weapon in their hand. Occasionally the shield was also laid aside and the men would embrace or grasp hands/forearms, further signifying that they had no defenses against the one they were greeting. The significance of the handshake is still important today. A good firm (not crushing) handshake speaks of confidence. It also revealed in earlier times the strength of a man to wield his sword. A soft handshake spoke of a man unable to handle his weapon, and a soft handshake today reveals weakness or lack of confidence.
8. That first impression of eye-contact and a firm handshake are still impressions that establish a basic foundation for any conversation or relationship later.
9. When introduced, be sure to hear and repeat the person’s name. If you are unsure, ask them. No one minds helping someone perfect the pronunciation of their name. Repeat and use their name to help you associate the face and name. If later you cannot recall their name, ask them again. A person’s name is the most important word in their language, and they will only respect you for attempting to learn their name. Good business leaders learn names and find ways to remember them. To later recall a person’s name is to show them a high compliment. They are “important” to you and that reflects well on you.
10. Use titles such as Dr., Professor, President with the person’s last name when addressing them and only use their first name if they give permission. I normally continue to use their title and last name until I am convinced they expect me to use their first name. That is a gateway I use that tells me they have reached a comfort/trust level with me.
11. Mimic the other person’s personae and level of emotion. You do not want to overwhelm or underwhelm in a greeting. I try to match the level of social greeting the other person shows me. And, this is important, I try to use some of their phraseology and tempo in my conversation with them. Most of this is just natural – there is a fascinating anthropological psychology at work in this – but subtle mimicry is an important part of earning trust. We all know personalities that are boisterous and over-the-top, and while we may enjoy their raucous personality, that rarely translates into trust. Nor are we impressed by the withdrawn, sullen personalities we meet. Be able to rise and fall with the personalities around you, not losing you own identity but enlarging the scope of your personality, keeping within the bounds of professionalism.
12. Compliment them on something specific – a book they wrote, a product or accomplishment you know of or the tie or shoes they are wearing. Men take some pride in their ties and every woman takes pride in her shoes. But don’t fawn. Don’t act in awe of them even if you are. Simply say it’s your pleasure to meet them and you hope to cross paths again soon.
13. Generally, you introduce two people by addressing the older or stronger in position first. “Dr. Johnson, I’d like to introduce you to my co-worker Rick Smith. Rick, Dr. Johnson”. It is your job as an introducer to point out the unique knowledge of the two that will allow them a point of reference for conversation after they have made the handshake and greetings. Age and position generally take precedence over accomplishment. It’s just simple civility in action.
14. Ask questions about the other person’s work or travels. Avoid personal or family topics until you have become well-acquainted. As a general rule, people enjoy talking about themselves more than listening to someone else. Certainly, you should answer questions, but I tend to be short and non-specific in my answers and then turn the conversation back to them. I am present to learn and establish contacts I can network later. I’m not there to toot my own horn.
15. Don’t dominate their time or the conversation. Many great people are polite and won’t injure your feelings purposely, but that doesn’t mean they are enjoying your presence as much as you are theirs. Better to come back later to talk than to dominate initially.