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.