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Professionalism and Etiquette – Conversations with Others

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Professionalism and Etiquette – Conversations with Others," in The Business Professor, updated December 11, 2019, last accessed April 8, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/professionalism-and-etiquette-conversations-with-others/.

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Personal Introductions

Another aspect of professionalism and personal brand that people overlook and do not practice is the art of personal introductions. That is, how do you introduce someone to others.
A personal introduction can arise in multiple circumstances. You can be the individual introducing, being introduced, or having someone introduced to you.

The objective of this scenario is to appear engaged, inviting, and demonstrate respect.

Introducing Others

When introducing others, follow the following tips:

  • Stand to the side but in between the people you are introducing, so as to invite a handshake between them.
  • Say the full name (clearly and audibly) of each person.
  • State who each person is professionally and in reference to you.
    • Example: Jane Smith, meet Bob Jones. Jane and I are colleagues at ABC, Corp. Jane is in the finance department. Bob and I are neighbors, and he is in marketing with XYC, LLC.
  • Open up the conversation by physically turning to include the person you are introducing.
  • Catch the newly introduced person up on the conversation.
    • Example: Jane, we were just discussing ….

Being Introduced

When being introduced, make certain to following the following tips:

  • Smile. It is important to look sociable and inviting to others.
  • Make eye contact with anyone and everyone to whom you are being introduced.
  • Offer a handshake while you are being introduced.
  • Repeat the person you are meeting’s name (it will help you remember and shows engagement) and say something along the lines of, “it’s a pleasure to meet you”.
  • If you are entering into another’s conversation, say “I hope I’m not interrupting/intruding”. This will give you the signal of whether to hang on an network or continue moving after the introduction.
  • Ask simple, but identifying questions of the other person. Don’t wait from them to ask questions about you.
    • Example: Where are you from originally? How long have you been working at _______?
  • When exiting the introduction (or subsequent conversation), do the following:
    • Say, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Jane”
    • Offer your business card and invite the other person to remain in contact.
    • Example: “Here is my information. Please feel free to reach out if I can ever be of service.”
    • Offer a parting handshake.

Someone is Introduced to You

When someone is being introduced to you, attempt to do the following:

  • Be inviting – smile and open up to let them into the conversation.
  • Offer a handshake.
  • Say, “it is a pleasure to meet you / make your acquaintance”.
  • Ask the other person identifying questions about them.
  • Remain engaged throughout the conversation.

Other tips on Introductions

  • Always stand when introducing or being introduced to someone.
  • When in doubt – introduce others. You never know if people know each other.
    • Note: You can lead off with the question, “Are you two acquainted?”
  • In a professional networking situation, always introduce lower ranking to higher-ranking person.
    • Note: This is a show of respect for the senior individual.
  • Continue to show confidence throughout the interaction – I.e., smile, stand up straight, no fidgeting, and make eye contact.
  • Handshakes should be short but firm (no dead fish hands).
  • Stay engaged throughout. The most insulting thing you can do is drift off, start checking your phone messages or start room shopping.
  • Don’t push your business cards during the conversation. You can offer your card and an invitation to remain in contact at the conclusion of the introduction (and subsequent conversation).

Addressing Others

Understanding how and when to address others formally and informally is an important aspect of professional etiquette.

Here are some general rules to follow:

First or Last name

When you meet someone new, you should address them as Mr., or Ms., Last Name. Continue to use their last name until you are invited to use their first name (if at all). Once invited to use someone’s first name, then do so. Do not continue to use Mr or Ms. Last Name in personal conversations. When someone invites you to use their first name, they are breaking down a wall of formality. If you resort back to using the more formal method of addressing them, you are re-establishing that wall or professional separation. Of course, if you want to maintain this level of separation (for any number of reasons), then going back to using the more formal method of addressing them is appropriate.

Remember Names

A common tendency among individuals is to fail to pay adequate attention to another person’s name when being introduced. Research shows that this tendency is based upon our predisposition to prepare for the conversation that is about to ensue. We begin to think about our response to the introduction, rather than taking the time to register the other person’s name. This can be very negative as it can make you appear to be less inviting and cordial if you fail to use the other person’s name when referring to them. Also, it is very difficult to effectively network and establish a professional connection if you do not recall the person’s name. The best way to avoid this tendency is to develop plan to consciously memorize a person’s name when you meet them. This can be difficult in a networking scenario in which you meeting multiple people. One common tactic is name association. You associate someone’s name with a similar sounding action or object that you visualize and associate with that person. Another common technique is to say the person’s name as part of a highly familiar jingle. Both of these methods are power memory techniques the can keep you from failing to acknowledge someone’s name.

Difficult or Uncommon Names

If you are faced with remember names that are uncommon or unfamiliar to you, it can be very challenging. As such, it is important to pay additional attention at the time of introduction to commit the person’s name to memory. If you are not certain as to whether you are saying the name correctly, you should politely repeat the person’s name back at the time of introduction. This is a professional and appropriate way of making certain that you understand the person’s name without it later creating an embarrassing incident. Likewise, if you have an uncommon or difficult name, you should make it a point to communicate your name to others in a manner that is easy for them to recall. A common technique is to say one’s name, immediately acknowledge that it is uncommon, and give the other person a method of recalling your name – such as a similar-sounding word or phonetic breakdown.

Using Sir or Ma’am

It is common in parts of the country to use Sir or Ma’am when addressing someone you are trying to show respect. For example, when asked a question, you respond “yes, Sir” or “yes, “Ma’am”. Generally, outside of the Southern states (Southeastern and Southwestern), this is far less common. You can begin by using these salutations; but, stop using them immediately if the other person seems put off by it. Remember, this is intended to show respect, but it can be ill-received. It can make a person feel old. Also, it can insert a level of formality in a situation where the other person is attempting to be more personal. In other material, we talk about the importance of fitting with your subordinates, colleagues, and superiors. For this reason, you attempt to address others in a manner that creates comfort and demonstrates shared values and understanding.

Gender Etiquette

Gender etiquette means respecting the how another person would like to be addressed. It also means using the appropriate pronoun when referring to someone. In terms of addressing women, a married female is addressed as “Mrs.”, while an unmarried female is addressed as “Miss”. You should never assume that some is married or unmarried (unless youth would dictate otherwise). As such, in any written message you should use the neutral form “Ms.”. While Ms and Miss are are pronounced the same in spoken language, keep them straight when writing messages.

Another important point is to not always use the masculine pronounce to refer to hypothetical individuals. For example, “If a person wants to be content in a career, she should search out engaging work.” In this scenario, the common practice is to make the hypothetical person male by using “he” instead of “she”. Using the feminine pronoun as well as the masculine form is generally well received by a diverse audience. Of course, if you know your audience to be reactionary or very traditional in their opinions on gender relations, you may want to stick with the male form. While you do not have to agree with another person’s point of view, it can be beneficial to avoid using phrasing that could create resentment without any potential for a positive outcome from the situation.

Treat Others with Respect

Showing respect to others is perhaps the single most important aspect of endearing yourself to others. Nothing will make you appear less professional to another person than to be condescending or speak down to them. This is not an effective method of communication, it does little to convince the other person of anything, it pains you in a negative light, and it can create animosity. For this reason, you should always assume that the other person has equal or superior knowledge to your own; however, give them the opportunity to ask for clarification or for explanation about any matter of uncertainty. A simple rule is to treat everyone with or show the level of respect you would expect or hope to receive from them. Two of the most common and disrespectful actions when having a personal conversation are: 1) to ignore the other party by turning your attention to your phone, or 2) routinely scanning the room for someone else to talk with while you should be engaged in your current conversation.

Exiting the Conversation

Another highly unprofessional action is to leave or break away from a conversation without showing the other party a level of respect and decorum. This generally means announcing to the other person that you need to break away and provide a justifiable reason. For example, the reason may be that you want to make certain to speak with some specific people before you lose the opportunity. This is a respectful explanation and does not appear that you were dismissive of the other party. Regardless of that reason, you should also express that it was a pleasure to meet the other person and that you enjoyed the conversation. If the interaction was positive, you can invite the individual to remain in contact and follow up with them in the future.

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