While revisiting some of my favorite TED Talks the other day, I was reminded of how important it is to make an intentional first impression, one that says a little bit about who we are when we meet someone for the first time. Whether we like it or not, within the first 5-10 seconds of meeting someone, they’ve already decided a few things about who we are.
“She didn’t look me in the eye when she said hello. Does she have something to hide?”
“He didn’t shake my hand and he’s awfully quiet. He doesn’t seem very friendly.”
As humans, we are assumption-making machines. That’s just a fact. It’s how we make sense of the world. We take in what’s around us, apply an explanation, and make decisions about a person or a situation based on that explanation. Right or wrong (and very often we’re wrong)… it’s just what we do.
Those impressions come super-quickly. And when they do, we (sometimes unconsciously) decide how to interact with the person we’ve just met… regardless of whether, or not, our assumptions are correct.
The challenge can be particularly difficult if you come from another country and/or English isn’t your first language. What if you have a heavy accent? Or maybe your name is unique and uncommon in the US? Now, you’ve added another layer of complexity to the first-impression dilemma.
If you’re foreign-born and have an accent, a long or uncommon name, or one that’s hard to pronounce, you may have noticed confused looks at times, or hesitation about asking you to repeat your name. Or maybe you’ve noticed they just avoid using your name altogether. Perhaps they just feel awkward trying to pronounce it
If any of those sound familiar, try some of these tips to make it easier the next time you meet someone new:
- Pay attention to your pace and tone as you say your name. Slow it way down and enunciate. After saying it once, repeat it again. It often helps folks to hear and see you say it a couple times.
- Try breaking your name down into separate syllables. For example, if your name is ‘Srithika,’ you might say, ‘Hi, I’m Srithika, that’s Sri-thi-ka.’ Encourage them to try saying it and help them adjust their pronunciation.
- Point out a word or short phrase that sounds like your name. It’ll give them something to associate it with and help them more easily commit it to memory. So, if your name is Shuba, you might say, ‘I’m Shuba – it rhymes with Scuba!”
- You may want to offer up a nickname you’re comfortable with that’s shorter or easier for them to pronounce. Whereas Chandralekha could be a challenge for some unfamiliar with the name, the nickname Chandra might be a welcome alternative.
- Remember to keep a sense of humor! Being playful and at ease goes a long way toward releasing any awkwardness that might occur. You’ll both feel more comfortable, and it’ll make it easier for them to let you know if they don’t understand you later. That’s always better than getting that blank-face-half-smile-and-nod response.
Watch for those subtle, non-verbal cues that seem to communicate “What did you say?” Intentionally shifting a potentially awkward introduction into a moment of ease and connection, can make all the difference in that first impression. Presenting yourself as approachable, while demonstrating your ability to help remove barriers, will lay the groundwork for a strong and fruitful business relationship.
P.S. For more tips on how to introduce yourself, check out Laura Sicola’s TED Talk, Want to sound like a leader? Start by saying your name right. About halfway through her talk, she discusses “strategic tonality” and how to use it when making a self-introduction. It’s well worth a listen.
Marie Bankuti, PCC, CPCC, PMP, Founder of Tether Free Vision Inc., is a business coach with more than three decades of experience in technology and leadership coaching and training. She specializes in helping foreign-born professionals acclimate, so they can thrive in U.S. companies. Find out more at TetherFreeVision.com