Introductions and First Conversations

Page Updated on July 28, 2007

Names

Should you call him Mr. Smith or Joe? This is a topic of hot debate. People often feel passionate about how we should address people. The waning use of last names is something that upsets many traditional people, especially in the South, but not using a first name may offend people who see last names as impersonal. Some situations may require the use of last names (e.g. Doctor Smith, Private Hughes, Officer Crouch, Professor Ball, etc.). Most social situations don’t require it, though, because the use of last names is impersonal. To keep everybody happy, unless policy specifies otherwise, use last names and titles only in the following situations:

  • Professional situations (especially when addressing superiors or customers)
  • Educational situations (especially when addressing parents, teachers, deans, or principals)
  • When speaking to a person in a position of authority (e.g. police officers, the President, doctors, etc.)

An antiquated use of names is referring to a woman as Mrs. Joe Smith, a practice created when women were considered inferior to men. I love my husband dearly, but there is more to my life than simply being a wife. While my husband and I do share the same last name, and I am a Mrs., I am an individual, and I don’t appreciate being referred to as an appendage of my husband.

Introducing Somebody

  • A host always does the introductions and doesn’t leave a new guest until he/she has been introduced or is engaged in a conversation or activity.
  • In formal or business situations, the person with the lower rank in the business is introduced to the person with the higher rank. If both individuals are of the same rank, the less senior is introduced to the more senior. Clients always have the highest rank.
  • Say something like, “Joe, have you met my daughter, Patricia?” or “Mr. Smith, this is my daughter, Patricia Jones.”

Introducing Yourself

  • Shake hands. If your hand is refused (perhaps the person has OCD or comes from a different culture and doesn’t shake hands), simply press your hands together, turn them slightly toward the person and continue.
  • Say something like, “Hi, I’m Joe Smith. I’m Angela’s brother.”

Being Introduced to Somebody in Professional and Social Situations

  • Shake hands. If your hand is refused (perhaps the person has OCD or comes from a different culture and doesn’t shake hands), simply press your hands together, turn them slightly toward the person and continue.
  • Say something like, “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Smith.” or “It’s nice to meet you, Patricia.”

Conversation Starters

  • Talk about something you have in common (e.g. a person you both know, the event you are both at, an aspect of industry that you share). An easy and inoffensive question could be “How do you know [the person you have in common]” or “How did you find this organization” or “How long have you been with….”
  • Let the conversation progress naturally. If you reach an uncomfortable silence, go back to the initial topic (or a previously discussed topic) that both of you have in common.
  • If you have a specific matter that you wish to discuss, try to lead the conversation toward that topic initially rather than being too direct at the beginning. You can directly address the specific matter once the conversation has developed. Avoid abruptly ending the conversation after you have discussed the specific matter, and always try to follow the specific matter with another topic, so you don’t seem as though you only bothered to speak to the individual to ask a question or make a comment.

Forgetting Names

  • Say something like, “Please don’t take offense. I’m terrible with names, and I seem to have forgotten yours.”

Parting After an Introduction

  • Say something like, “I’m so glad we talked. I hope we will see each other again soon.”