GOOD FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE GOOD FOR BUSINESS
Some handy suggestions for foreign-born business persons seeking to forge ties in the mainstream.
A good bit of the success of small business owners, entrepreneurs, professionals, and corporate executives depends on their ability to cultivate strong relationships with a varied cross section of people— clients, suppliers, peers, etc.
And that’s where first impressions matter. 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.
It can be particularly difficult if you come from another country and/or English isn’t your first language. I know: my dad was from Hungary and had a thick accent, so I often had to “translate” when he coached my soccer team.
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. That added another layer of complexity to the first-impression dilemma.
If any of those sound familiar, try some of these tips to make it easier the next time you meet some-one new:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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!”
4. 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 someone unfamiliar with the name, the nickname Chandra might be a welcome alternative.
5. 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, nonverbal 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.
Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of KPPB LAW (www.kppblaw.com). Guest columnist Marie Bankuti, PCC, CPCC, PMP, is founder of Tether Free Vision Inc. (www. TetherFreeVision.com). She is a business coach specializing in helping foreign-born professionals acclimate, so they can thrive in U.S. companies.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.
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