By Tony Samson
IT’S NOT just wakes and weddings but also open seminars on leadership, corporate governance, and team-building sessions involving groups of companies as well as chance meetings at the theater or restaurant where one needs to introduce himself, sometimes to strangers. (Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.)
Why is there this need to get biographical details, even when the possibility of working together, or even meeting again is so remote? Who cares about life stories except perhaps employers interviewing candidates for a job — what value can you bring to our market cap?
When asked to introduce yourself in a social setting, there is no need to deliver a mini-speech on your life’s dreams and aspirations or offer up a personal mission statement — I want to leave footprints in the sands of other people’s beaches.
Do we perhaps still need a calling card to give out? This little data base from the analog days of paper provides name, position, and the company address and contact details (including e-mail and mobile). This info can also be transferred on the phone via Bluetooth? But what if you send somebody else’s contact details? (Who is Sweetie Pie?)
Introducing yourself can be awkward if: a) you have already retired (or been fired) from a high-profile position which some think you still hold; b) you are an uninvited guest, tagging along for somebody else’s high school reunion; or c) you have a selfie video making the rounds — how did they get that?
No stress should be attached to the simple social task of self-introduction. It’s not as if the extracted information will later be fished out later to embarrass you. When introducing yourself to a stranger, all that’s needed are a few biographical details to guide her on what she can talk about with you.
We are too used to defining ourselves by our work or how we make money. (I give out brochures at the mall for massage chairs.) So, a person without a proper occupation can be at a loss on how to introduce himself. It’s best to pick a hobby, preferably not a common one, like art auctions or philately (which is not a religion).
If small talk is all that is required, it is best to stick to general subjects like air pollution, working from home, and clichés about the gadget culture (nobody converses anymore, they’re just too absorbed with their gadgets). Other topics with partisan overtones say, senatorial picks, fake news, and religion, should be avoided as these invite ad-hominem attacks on your prejudices — are you a defrocked priest?
There is too the harmless probing of common backgrounds, utilizing the theory of “six degrees of separation” tracing social connections, like friends of friends, school ties, cousins of cousins, and colleagues from different companies in past lives. This bit of curiosity game at a wedding (are you with the bride’s party?) or wake (did you know the deceased well?) leads to the inevitable Eureka moment. After five minutes of questions and answers (punctuated by shrieks of delight) a preordained point is reached at last: “What a small world.” This bit of social digging distracts from an undue preoccupation with careers and status issues. It also takes up time which is there to be wasted — oh is it dinner already?
Odd relationships like accompanying partners not covered by routine labels like spouses or caregivers (she gives me foot massages) require their own diversionary tactics to avoid biographical details, including arriving separately or mixing with different conversation groups. Here, avoidance of intros is the chosen path. Partners of this sort leave through different exits.
There is no obligation to give any biographical details at all, when in a familiar social setting among colleagues, former classmates, and family. Those groups already know of any recent embarrassing situations you find yourself in, like retiring or losing a job after some high-profile investigations, even as you await the resolution of a TRO. This grapevine is on alert for changes in social status. (His shirts now need pressing, and have missing buttons.)
So, perhaps the best way to introduce yourself is like a prisoner of war, but giving only a nickname (Hi, I’m Dax) instead of rank and serial number. Then, it’s just a matter of avoiding personal probes altogether, or limiting these to irrelevant questions — are you also allergic to soft shell crabs?
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda