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The Glass Hammer
The Glass Hammer2
The Glass Hammer
Shaking Hands with Strangers
By Heather Chapman (New York City)
An introduction to a previously unknown person, whether in a business or social setting, generally starts the same way: names are exchanged, eyes meet, and a handshake seals the deal. Pretty standard, right? But, every now and again, especially in a business setting, you could find yourself in an awkward moment of silence, not wanting to offend and in a quandary as to the proper order in which to proceed with introductions.
Until relatively recent times, protocol dictated that a man be introduced first. The practice was carried over from medieval times, when the highest-ranking person in the room was always the person to whom someone was introduced. ("Your Highness, may I introduce His Grace, the Earl of Green," for example.) With those times behind, the question still remains: who should be introduced to whom first? The most senior person, the man you work with, or the woman standing next to you? And, is it politically incorrect to introduce someone to a male coworker before introducing that person to a female coworker?
The Glass Hammer recently spoke to several women in various industries to see if they had any modern etiquette tips to share concerning the art of the initial introduction, including the rules about who to introduce, in what order and whether gender should have anything to do with it.
Michelle Friedman, an attorney with Davis & Kuelthau, stated that "etiquette dictates that introductions are made by introducing the person with the most senior status first, irrespective of gender... if I'm in a group and encounter an acquaintance I know who is not familiar with my companions, I introduce the most senior member of my group to my acquaintance, etc."
Dee Merey, President of D M Public Relations, offered a similar view, saying, "I do believe that a woman should be introduced first, but only if both the man and the woman are equal in rank to each other. In a business where the man is a partner and the woman the new associate, the reverse should be the case. However, if both the man and the woman are equal in rank, and someone must be introduced first, it makes sense to introduce the woman first as she is a member of a class that historically has been disadvantaged in business."
Nancy Spruiell, a buyer in the garment industry, says that she never noticed any hesitation in an introduction here in the United States, although she has noticed it elsewhere. "Maybe because I spent so many years in an industry dominated by females, I never noticed this 'rule.' However, I was always brought up that you introduce the highest-ranking person first and go along in descending rank, regardless of a person's sex. The only times I've really come across noticeable discrimination in this area has not been in our own country, but in South Korea and Pakistan, where even though I was the buyer, I was never introduced on factory visits, etc., because I was a woman. It highly irritated me, but due to cultural sensitivity, there was almost nothing I could do about it."
Ashley Hunter, of HM Risk Group, had a slightly different opinion. "I think that introductions by a man are totally outdated in the United States and I am almost offended when men suggest that they introduce me. I usually introduce myself to the highest-ranking female first and then the CEO; I usually have success with that approach. However, with my business in the Middle East, I do use men for introductions; it is appropriate to do so over in that region."
Shenlei Winkler, CEO of the Fashion Research Institute, agreed that introductions should be made based on seniority, but also brought up the medieval connotations that a first introduction had. "Considering that the medieval court is the basis of business etiquette, I personally am all for having people be introduced to me, because it subtly reinforces this power hierarchy. And I tend to introduce individuals on my team according to how I want them to be viewed. I don't think it's an outdated rule at all, and I think more women need to start thinking strategically about their place not only in their business but in society as a whole."
So the consensus is that a person's gender should not determine who is introduced first, but that a person's ranking should. Still, that leaves unresolved the question of who is introduced to whom in a business setting when both people are of the same rank. According to The Recruiter Lounge, you should introduce the person you are less acquainted with to the one with whom you are more acquainted. And, in all cases, you should phrase the introduction with the higher ranking person's name, as in "Mr. President, allow me to introduce Joe the Plumber."
Since rank is the key determining factor, here are some guidelines to help you determine the rank or level of importance of the people being introduced:
• Senior Executive to Junior Executive.