How Do You Do? The Etiquette of Introductions

Outdated customs are a good example of how etiquette, when executed correctly, provide a clear structure for accepted manners. Nowadays, introductions can be confusing and, at worse, embarrassing.
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In times gone by, British society was governed by strict codes of conduct and even the simplest mistake could have a devastating affect on social standing. Yet, the rules of etiquette provided a useful framework for accepted behavior.

Nowadays, we have the luxury of a more relaxed society, but does our laissez-faire attitude to the formalities of yesteryear merely confuse us more? Following my recent blog on social kissing, it seemed only natural to now consider to the complex business of introductions.

Even in the early decades of last century precedence ruled and there were clear expectations of who should be introduced to whom. For example, a woman of lesser rank was introduced to one of higher standing, and unmarried women were introduced to married women. A mother introduced her unmarried daughter to other women by her Christian name, but introduced her to a man as 'my daughter'. Married woman were always called Mrs X, never by Christian name.

Men were introduced to women, never the other way round. If she was sitting, there was no need for her to stand up. If they were both standing, then the introduction was acknowledged by a bow and, from her, a slight smile and inclination of the head. Handshakes between men and women were unusual and only ever instigated by the woman.

These outdated customs are a good example of how etiquette, when executed correctly, provided a clear structure for accepted manners. Nowadays, introductions can be confusing and, at worse, embarrassing. We've all experienced awkward greetings and uncomfortable silences, as well as self-conscious group situations. It is, therefore, important to remember a few points of etiquette that will oil the wheels for social success.

First, who makes the introduction? In a situation of more than two people, the responsibility lies with the person who is the link between those who have never met. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being left standing while animated conversation between those who know each other goes on around you.

Confidence and clarity is key. Make sure you get names correct, speak clearly and don't mumble. There's nothing worse than forcing someone to say 'I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name'.

When making an introduction, try to offer some information that will put the person into context and provide a springboard for conversation. For example, a quick fact such as 'John and I play tennis together' will help to break the ice.

Individuals should be introduced to a group first, and then the group to the individual. For example, 'Jane, this is John, James and Sue. Everyone, this is Jane.' Couples are introduced separately, although it is advisable to clarify the relationship ('And this is Sarah, Peter's wife/girlfriend'). Surnames are only necessary in very formal situations.

If you are introducing people with titles, err on the side of formality (especially for the older generation) and use 'Lord' and 'Lady' much as you would use 'Mr' and 'Mrs'. Don't use the full title (the Marquess of X) in conversation; this form of address is used for formal correspondence. It is up to people with titles to terminate the formality with a simple 'Just call me James...'

It is important to get introductions right. They occur in every level of our everyday lives, from meeting new friends and family, to business and networking situations. We may not have the security of the formalities of yesteryear, but some simple thought and attention to detail when making introductions will aid even the trickiest of social situations.

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