Introducing People

Here is a brief section on Introducing People that I wrote for Interpersonal Messages 2/e and Essentials of Human Communication 7/e but I thought it would also be of interest to readers of The Interpersonal Communication Book.

One of the interpersonal communication situations that often creates difficulties is the introduction of one person to another person. Let’s say you’re with Jack and bump into Jill who stops to talk. Because they don’t know each other, it’s your job to introduce them. Generally, it’s best to do this simply but with enough detail to provide a context for further interaction. It might go something like this: “Jill Williams, this is Jack Smith, who works with me at ABC as marketing manager. I went to college with Jill and, if I’m not mistaken, she has just returned from Hawaii.”
With this introduction Jack and Jill can say something to each other based on the information provided in this brief (32-word) introduction. They can talk about working at ABC, what it’s like being a marketing manager, what Jill majored in, what Hawaii is like, what Jill did in Hawaii, and on and on. If you simply said: “Jack this is Jill; Jill, Jack” there would be virtually nothing for Jack and Jill to talk about.
Some introductions need special handling, for example:
• If you forget the person’s name, the best thing to do here is to admit it and say something like: “I don’t know why I keep thinking your name is Joe; I know it’s not. I’m blocking.” You’re not the only one who forgets names, and few people take great offense when this happens.
• If you don’t want to reveal what your relationship with the person you’re with is, don’t. Simple say, “This is Jack.” You don’t have to identify what your relationship to Jack is if you don’t want to. And, hopefully, the other person won’t ask. Of course, if you want to reveal your relationship, then do so. This is Jack, my lover, boyfriend, life partner, parole officer, or whatever term you want to use to define your relationship.
• In using names, it’s best to be consistent with the norms operating in your specific culture. So, if just first names are exchanged in the introduction, use just first names. If the norm is to use first and last names, follow that pattern. Also, be consistent with the two people you introduce. Use just the first name for both or first name plus last name for both.
• If the two people are of obviously different ranks, then the person of lower rank is introduced to the person of higher rank. Thus, you’d introduce the child to the adult, the junior executive to the senior executive, the student to the professor. Another commonly practiced rule is to introduce the man to the woman: Marie, this is Stephen. Or Marie, I’d like to introduce Stephen to you.

In the United States, the handshake is the most essential gesture of introduction (see “Dos and Don’ts” below”). In Muslim cultures people hug same-sex people but not the opposite sex. In Latin America, South America, and the Mediterranean, people are more likely to hug (and perhaps kiss on the cheek) than are Northern Europeans, Asians, and many from the United States. Asians are more reluctant to extend their hands and more often bow, with lower bows required when people of lower status meet someone of higher status, for example, an intern meeting a company executive or a Private meeting a General.
As you can imagine, such cultural differences may create intercultural difficulties and misunderstandings. For example, if you shake hands in a culture that hugs and kisses, you may appear standoffish and as unwilling to be close. And, if you hug and kiss in a culture that is used to shaking hands, you may seem presumptuous and overly friendly. The best advice here seems to be to watch what the people of the culture you’re in do and try to do likewise. And don’t get upset if members of other cultures “violate” your own culture’s rituals. After all, one ritual is no more logical or right than any other; they’re all arbitrary.

Here’s a brief summary of dos and don’ts of the handshake:

Make eye contact at the beginning and maintain it throughout the handshake.
Smile and otherwise signal positiveness.
Extend your entire right hand.
Grasp the other person’s hand firmly but without so much pressure that it would be uncomfortable.
Pump three times; a handshake in the United States lasts about three to four seconds. In other cultures, it might be shorter or, more often, longer.
Release grasp while still maintaining eye contact.

Look away from the person or down at the floor or at your shaking hand.
Appear static or negative.
Extend just your fingers or your left hand.
Grasp the other person’s fingers as if you really don’t want to shake hands but you’re making a gesture to be polite.
Give the person a “dead fish.” Be careful that the other person’s pumping doesn’t lead you to withdraw your own pumping. Pump much more than three times.
Hold grasp for an overly long time or release too early.


Communication Strategies: Guidelines for Facilitating and Responding to Self-Disclosures

When someone discloses to you, it’s usually a sign of trust and affection. In carrying out this most important receiver function, keep the following five guidelines in mind.

Practice the skills of effective and active listening.
Listen actively, listen politely, listen for different levels of meaning, listen with empathy, and listen with an open mind. Express an understanding of the speaker’s feelings in order to give the speaker the opportunity to see his or her feelings more objectively and through the eyes of another. Ask questions to ensure your own understanding and to signal your interest and attention.

Support and reinforce the discloser.
Try to refrain from evaluation, concentrating on understanding and empathizing. Make your supportiveness clear to the discloser through your verbal and nonverbal responses; for example, maintain eye contact, lean toward the speaker, ask relevant questions, and echo the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.

Be willing to reciprocate.
Your own disclosures (made in response to the other person’s disclosures), demonstrate your understanding of the other’s meanings and your willingness to communicate on a meaningful level.

Keep the disclosures confidential.
If you reveal disclosures to others, negative effects are inevitable. It’s interesting to note that one of the netiquette rules of e-mail is that you shouldn’t forward mail to third parties without the writer’s permission. This rule is useful for self-disclosure generally: Maintain confidentiality; don’t pass on disclosures made to you to others without the person’s permission.

Don’t use the disclosures against the person.
Many self-disclosures expose vulnerability or weakness. If you later turn around and use a disclosure against the person, you betray the confidence and trust invested in you. Regardless of how angry you may get, resist the temptation to use the disclosures of others as weapons.


Communication Strategies: Guidelines for Making Self-Disclosures

In addition to weighing the potential rewards and dangers of self-disclosure, consider the following factors as well. These hints will help you raise the right questions before you make what must be your decision.
n Consider the motivation for the self-disclosure. Self-disclosure should be motivated by a concern for the relationship, for the others involved, and for yourself.
n Consider the appropriateness of the self-disclosure. Self-disclosure should be appropriate to the context and to the relationship between you and your listener. Before making any significant self-disclosure, ask whether this is the right time (Do you both have the time to discuss this in the length it requires?) and place (Is the place private enough?). Ask, too, whether this self-disclosure is appropriate to the relationship. Generally, the more intimate the disclosure, the closer the relationship should be.
n Consider the disclosures of the other person. During your disclosures, give the other person a chance to reciprocate with his or her own disclosures. If the other person does not reciprocate, reassess your own self-disclosures. It may be that for this person at this time and in this context, your disclosures are not welcome or appropriate.
n Consider the possible burdens self-disclosure might entail. Carefully weigh the potential problems that you may incur as a result of your disclosure. Can you afford to lose your job if you disclose your prison record? Are you willing to risk relational difficulties if you disclose your infidelities (on the Jerry Springer Show, for example)? Also, ask yourself whether you’re placing burdens on the listener. For example, consider the person who swears his or her mother-in-law to secrecy and then discloses having an affair with a neighbor. This disclosure clearly places an unfair burden on the mother-in-law.



Most interpersonal communication textbooks list the major emotions, talk about the need to be able to describe what you’re feeling, and provide a variety of terms to describe the basic or primary emotions. It’s part of emotional communication competence. Alexithymia, on the other hand, is a condition in which a person lacks the vocabulary to effectively describe his or her feelings, wants, and desires. State alexithymia is temporary and is triggered by a specific event; trait alexithymia is a personality characteristic and manifests itself often and in a wide variety of contexts. People high in alexithymia, not surprisingly, are handicapped in their ability to form and to maintain close interpersonal relationships. Take a look at Ross Buck’s article and related posts. It adds greatly to what appears in many textbooks.


Communication Strategies: Self-Disclosure Dangers

In weighing any decision to self-disclosure, consider the potential dangers:

Personal Risks
The more you reveal about yourself to others, the more areas of your life you expose to possible attack. Especially in the competitive context of work (or even romance), the more that others know about you, the more they’ll be able to use against you

Relationship Risks
Even in close and long-lasting relationships, self-disclosure can cause problems. Parents, normally the most supportive people in most individuals’ lives, frequently reject children who disclose their homosexuality, their plans to marry someone of a different race, or their belief in another faith. Your best friends—your closest intimates—may reject you for similar self-disclosures.

Professional Risks
Sometimes self-disclosure may result in professional or material losses. Politicians who disclose that they have been in therapy may lose the support of their own political party and find that voters are unwilling to vote for them. Teachers who disclose disagreement with school administrators may find themselves being denied tenure, teaching undesirable schedules, and becoming victims of “budget cuts.” In the business world self-disclosures of alcoholism or drug addiction often result in dismissal, demotion, or social exclusion.

Remember too that self-disclosure, like any other communication, is irreversible. You cannot self-disclose and then take it back. Nor can you erase the conclusions and inferences listeners make on the basis of your disclosures. Remember, too, to examine the rewards and dangers of self-disclosure in terms of particular cultural rules. As with all cultural rules, following the rules about self-disclosure brings approval, and violating them brings disapproval.