Business Leader Introductions, Do You Kiss, Bow Or Shake Hands?

Meeting in ItalyI was part of a discussion on the importance of looking a person in the eye – clearly this is  a sign of respect, honesty and credibility. Certainly this is the case with my background.

And there you have it: my background. In other cultures, this is interpreted as quite the opposite. So this post is going to be all about those all important introductions as a business leader. The reality is, we assess a person within the first few minutes of meeting someone. This can determine whether to hire, partner or date for that matter! We pack a lot of meaning in those oh so precious seconds of meeting a person.

First Names

As a leader, relationship building up, down and outside the organization is a key component of the role. Although the  familiarity and the use of first names may be popular in Canada and the U.S.,  this is not necessarily the case in many other countries. In Asia and in some European countries, addressing a person by their first name can be considered as disrespect even an insult until a level of familiarity is actually established. With the economy the way it is today and the fusion of our global markets, this may not be so black and white- nonetheless it should be considered when addressing a person for the first time. Now etiquette on social media is still being determined- for the most part. In my experience, familiarity is expedited and usually the username is the indicator as to how you should address a person. But still, one should keep this mind.


Many Asian countries list surnames first and given names last. Make a point to confirm surnames in advance whenever possible when meeting someone for the first time-specially on a business trip.


Failing to address someone by his or her proper title-such as a doctor, professor, prince or chief executive officer-can start your meeting totally on the wrong footing. Yep titles still matters. If you have only spoken to the person on the phone and could not find a photo of the person -when meeting them for the first time in a party, you should not assume who’s who. I have had so many first meetings with other business leaders where it was assumed that I was not the leader and my host would welcome my travelling partner with little reference to myself. Do not make that mistake; if you are not sure- ask. If you are not sure of the proper pronunciation of their name – ask. I have been thanked so many times just for asking for the proper pronunciation and then  forgiven with my attempt- however respected because I showed I cared.

Business Cards

To this day,  when I receive a business card regardless of where I am, I spend a few moments looking at it and if I am at a table, proudly display it beside my “stuff”. It is common in North America for professionals to casually hand out cards with one hand. But in many other countries, it is a bit of a ritual where it is customary to handle the business card with both hands and taking it further by accompanying the act with a slight bow. The business card has huge significance in some cultures and so the associated attention is a sign of respect. The reason I put the card on the table, is that in some cultures it is frowned upon if you put the card away during the meeting.

Please do not put your guest’s business card  in your back pocket near your rear-end. Your meeting will  be over before it even got started- perhaps not physically but mentally. Now in some cultures writing on the business is considered disrespectful- so know your audience.

Personal Space

You really need to consider personal space and touching. Here in Canada, we touch people a lot!  Touching, hugging, hand shakes and/or kissing cheeks etc  in some countries, especially in the Middle East, is not acceptable. Furthermore in many cultures or religions, it is improper for men and women to touch members of the opposite sex, other than their spouses or close family members.  I usually wait and take the other person’s lead. So do keep that in mind. Certainly, as a female leader, meeting another leader in some of these cultures, you really do have to do your homework and not be too sensitive about your own norms especially if you want to ensure a successful discussion.

All this with in the first few minutes! Do you kiss, bow or shake hands?!

This indeed can set the stage for your  meeting going forward. Do your homework.

What about you? What other introductory rituals have you experienced ? Or aware of?



About Shirley Williams

I have a passion to create, resolve and build.I have had a pretty dynamic career that some say has led to a solid reputation as a visionary, result-driven and passionate leader. I say, simplify the complexity, work WITH people and you have a formula that not only deliver results but forms bonds that will stand the test of time. I have led numerous initiatives with a geographical scope that has included Canada, US, The South Americas,Europe and Australia. My professional career spans Biotechnology, Brand & Generic Pharmaceuticals, IBM Business Consulting Services, Healthcare, Retail, Electronics, more recently Mining and now Social Media. I am a biochemist and have a Master of Scence degree in endocrine pharmacology. I am a certified practitioner and professional in Change Management (Prosci), Project Management (PMP/PMI) and Social Media (OMCP, Online Marketing Certified Professional). So that makes my full title to be: Shirley Williams, MSc. PMP. CMC. OCMP. Having spent many years in the LifeSciences (you can check my career profile on Linkedin ) I have now directed my attention to bridging strategy and goals with social media. Loving it! In fact I am passionate about it. I have also produced and currently host my own internet radio show. My programs to-date have included Rise Of The Patient and Give Startups A Chance. I consider myself as an Experience Enabler. I facilitate and advocate for improved experience from the consumer perspective. Thank you for stopping by to check me out!

8 Responses to “Business Leader Introductions, Do You Kiss, Bow Or Shake Hands?”

  1. Hi Shirley, I appreciate you using the title of our book series here. You might find our newest book of interest – “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands; Sales & Marketing.” Best regards, Terri M.


  1. Global Leadership: How Much Skin Is Enough? | William Pearl - April 19, 2012

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