Personal Introductions

My, how they have changed.

When you visit companies in Japan you are often struck by the formality of business introductions.  First, meetings have to be carefully “arranged” so that the right people meet, at the right time, and in the right setting.  Impromptu meetings are typically avoided but when the occasion arises they can also turn rather formal.  Normally, a third person is charged with making the introductions and his or her words are chosen carefully to denote superior/subordinate relationships.  Business cards are not just carelessly exchanged but rather formally presented in a certain manner.  It is also quite common to exchange small gifts to commemorate the event.  There is also, of course, a lot of bowing as well as firm handshakes.

The Japanese consider introductions to be a very important part of establishing business relations and takes it all very seriously.  In contrast, Americans tend to be much more cavalier in their approach to personal introductions.  It wasn’t always like this.  In fact, at one time it was almost as formal as the Japanese, but this has changed radically over the years.

In terms of handshakes, we still have the “glad hander” which is typically used by politicians as they work the crowd.  The idea is to try and shake as many hands as possible, as fast as possible.  The “glad hander” approach is not very sincere as the person rarely looks the other in the eye. Instead, he or she is just going through the mechanics of the handshake.

Of course, we still have people who offer a “vice grip” handshake as a form of intimidation, as well as the “milquetoast” shake representing the weakling.  Both of these still leave a lot to be desired.  Most Americans just want a simple and sincere handshake when meeting a person along with some eye contact to convey sincerity.

recently, I experienced a new type of handshake which I like to call the “Cool Dude.”  This was from a young person who I judged to be in his early to mid 20’s.  The introduction came at an industry association meeting held after work at a hotel.  As I was introduced to the young person by my host, the young man swung his right arm way back before extending his hand to offer a rather quick and superficial handshake.  I also observed he avoided eye contact as I presumed he considered himself to be “too cool” to do so.  Instead of a good “How do you do?”  I was treated to a “Wassup?”  Frankly, I was taken aback by the “Cool Dude” as it struck me as something I might see on Comedy Central, but not in a business setting.

This all made me wonder what kind of message the young man thought he was conveying.  Was he too cool for a proper introduction or was this representative of the way young people introduce themselves these days?  Whatever it was, it certainly put me off and the young man immediately lost all credibility with me.

I guess I’m “old school” as I believe in the value of introductions; maybe not to the level of formality as practiced in Japan, but I appreciate the necessity of them.  The intent is to set people off on the same level and to develop a rapport.  However, if the “Cool Dude” is the shape of things to come, I see some real social problems emerging in the years ahead.  I guess the next thing will be no more handshakes whatsoever and we’ll just touch mechanical devices together (like smart phones) in order to exchange introductory data.  Oy!

Keep the Faith!