The Not-So-Simple Art of Making Introductions

Patrick has been a high performing member of his organization for nearly 10 years. Recently, a member of his company’s Human Resources department, Elizabeth, was giving a tour to a couple of new hires and was introducing them to existing employees.
When they stopped at Patrick’s department, Elizabeth introduced the new hires to Bruce, whose office was next door to Patrick’s. With a smile on his face and eager to welcome the new hires, Patrick rose from his desk and went to his doorway to wait his turn.
As Elizabeth finished introducing Bruce to the new hires, she turned towards Patrick and said, “And this is, uh, wow, I don’t know who you are!”
Patrick was slightly stunned since he had had a few conversations with Elizabeth over the year or two that she had been with the organization…and of course, because his name was prominently displayed on his name plaque on the wall outside of his office.
Elizabeth then proceeded to explain, in front of the new hires and Bruce, that while she didn’t know Patrick’s name, she routinely observed him from her window indulging his nasty smoking habit on his breaks. This included her sarcastically mimicking the act, thoroughly explaining how her office window’s vantage point was positioned perfectly for spying on employees, how she regularly publicly chastised other employees who also share the habit, and even pointed how Patrick was going to die. What should have been a simple introduction had become incredibly uncomfortable for everyone except the blatantly oblivious Elizabeth from Human Resources. With each word she spoke, the eyes of the new hires grew wider, while Bruce could only look away in disbelief.
Despite all of this, Patrick kept his outward smile and simply nodded and faked a laugh while hoping that Elizabeth would simply stop talking. He wasn’t proud of his bad habit but felt strongly that it shouldn’t be the focus of his introduction to his new co-workers. As soon as he was given an opening, Patrick quickly chimed in and addressed the new employees with, “Hi, I’m Patrick.”
As he shook their hands, Elizabeth spoke up once again and said, “um, geez, I have no idea what you do!”
It wasn’t audible but you could sense a collective groan as Elizabeth successfully sucked the energy out of the room once again. Patrick continued to smile, nodded, faked a laugh and briefly explained his role and how it had evolved over his lengthy tenure with the organization.
As Elizabeth and the new hires walked away, Patrick turned to Bruce and asked, “what was THAT?”
Bruce replied, “THAT was completely uncalled for and incredibly unprofessional.”
To make successful, positive introductions, here are some things Elizabeth should consider doing in the future:

  • Ask employees to introduce themselves. If you don’t know someone’s name, don’t embarrass yourself, the person you’re introducing, or the person you’re introducing them to. After introducing the new hires, Elizabeth could have given the ‘your turn’ glance to Patrick and allowed him to chime in on his own. Or, she could have turned to Patrick and said something like, “why don’t you introduce yourself and tell them a little bit about who you are?”
    (Or, of course, she also could have glanced at the name plaque on the wall outside his office for assistance.)
  • Ask employees to describe their role in their own words. If you don’t know what someone does, simply have them describe it in their own words. By saying, “I have no idea what you do,” it implies that Patrick’s contributions aren’t noticeable, and by extension, not appreciated. Or, as a Human Resources representative, it implies that you’re not in tune with the actual work being done by the employees in the trenches.
  • If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. All these years later, Mom’s advice still rings true. Never introduce someone by pointing out their flaws, faults, or negative traits. By focusing on Patrick’s bad habit, Elizabeth effectively eroded any trust she had with Patrick and demonstrated to the new employees that perhaps they should be cautious around Elizabeth.

What other advice would you have for Elizabeth? Do you have any stories of introductions gone wrong?
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6 thoughts on “The Not-So-Simple Art of Making Introductions

  1. Good stuff. I sometimes get tripped up on pronounciations of some less familiar coworkers’ names, but that’s when I get them to introduce themselves.
    I make it a habit to say something specific and positive about each person I introduce. “Patricia is our amazingly effective Marketing Director” and “Joyce our receptionist is so good at her job – I don’t know how she remains so cheerful every single day.” Introductions are something everyone involved should look forward to – not dread. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about what your coworkers do, too. “I know your role is shifting here, Patricia – maybe you could tell both of us a little bit about what you’ll be doing now.”

  2. We’ve all had this happen before so good advice. I typically give some sort of non-verbal que to the other party to introduce themselves when I am at a loss of someones name.

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