Executives get a lot of advice about how to manage such
scenarios: A new hire should negotiate his goals and responsibilities up front. A newly promoted leader must build credibility and influence with early wins. A relocated expatriate
should study her new country and its culture. Novice conference attendees hoping to do some networking should arrive
with a list of target contacts in mind.
All of those are good practices. But in 20-odd years of studying, teaching, and counseling executives and MBA students,
I’ve found that the challenge many of us face in new situations is much more fundamental. Surprisingly large numbers
of professionals do less than their best because they haven’t
mastered three basic yet critical getting-to-know-you skills:
introducing themselves, remembering people’s names, and
Through interviews, surveys, and studies with hundreds of
people, I’ve found that the anxiety most of us feel in new
situations is rooted in these three activities. In the heat of
the moment, we simply aren’t confident or comfortable
enough to perform them well. We know we need to con-
nect with coworkers at the office and strangers at industry
events, but we hesitate to approach unfamiliar people – and
instead hope others will come to us. We recognize that people
are impressed if we remember their names – but still find
ourselves forgetting, feeling awkward, and then avoiding con-
versation. We realize that others have information we need,
but we’re reluctant to bother bosses or peers with questions
about things they might expect us to know already. And it’s
not just shy introverts who suffer; even extroverts tell me
they’re frequently uncomfortable introducing themselves or
asking questions, and more than 80% of people I’ve inter-
viewed admit they’re bad at recalling names.
Some discomfort is only natural. For most of human history,
caution in new situations and around unfamiliar people was an
advantage. Throughout childhood, we’re told to avoid strangers
and ask questions only after raising a hand. We’re given little
formal guidance on how to approach contacts, make introductions, and remember names. And yet, by the time we’re adults,
it’s assumed that we’re experts at these basic skills.
My research indicates that we’re not. Fortunately, however,
it’s fairly easy to improve at them. Some of the following
advice may seem familiar, but I’ve been told by executives
at high levels – company presidents, entrepreneurs, and
consulting partners – that they’ve benefited from it. If you’re
proactive and take steps to train yourself in the techniques
offered here, you can set yourself up for success.
almost always requires putting yourself into new situations.
To further your career, you must take new jobs, join new organizations, transfer to new office
locations, and meet and build relationships with new customers, suppliers, and industry peers.