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Professional Networking: Business Card Attitudes
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Professional Networking: Business Card Attitudes - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Business Card Attitudes

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Business Card Attitudes

People keep trying to find new ways to make the old business cards obsolete. One early (and persistent) model has business acquaintances, upon first meeting, sending each other’s cell number to a service. The subscribed service then replies with all the important business card info: name, company, title, and contact info. This solution, while conservative of natural resources and therefore appealing in some ways, has never taken off for some obvious reasons, not the least of which is that many of our new contacts don’t know how to send a text message, and must then do something with the info once they get back to their desks. Certain contexts call for the exchanging of Twitter handles, which is useful and immediately engaging, but again: not everyone you meet is on Twitter, and too often when you ask for Twitter info, the response is “Oh, my marketing department handles that.”

Until something truly better comes along, we’re stuck with business cards, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for old-fashioned methods, and a physical card has a lot to recommend it. It’s something tangible that can be passed along from one person to another, for one thing. It can be written upon. It can be filed, shuffled, and referred to discreetly, without having to launch an app. And of course, it can be dropped in a fishbowl with other cards for the chance at winning a free lunch at the corner bistro.

Yet for all its tradition, the practice of exchanging business cards is sometimes treated as a formality, and not a valuable opportunity for personal and professional connection. Worse, it’s often done casually, more like the trading of a high five than the offering of a firm handshake. As a little food for thought, let’s consider the way some Asian cultures deal with business cards, and ask ourselves if we can use a little injection from a new way of thinking of them. We’re going to skip the obvious stuff, such as making sure your card is in good shape (and not smeared with whatever is sharing space with it in the bottom of your purse) and that the info on it is actually correct, and get to the moment of sharing.

In many Asian countries, such as Japan, China, and Korea, the card is offered humbly, as if to say, “May I please offer you my contact information?” Cards are held with two hands as they are presented, gripped between the thumbs and forefingers at the corners, with the text facing the receiver for easy reading. The receivers also accept them with two hands, as if receiving something valuable, which of course it is.

An identical approach might feel a bit awkward in American settings, but consider what you communicate when you have a similar attitude. Perhaps you don’t offer your card with two hands, but neither do you flick it across the table like the dealer at a poker table, or grip it between your two fingers like you’re passing a cigarette. Rather than saying, “Let me give you my card” as if you’re doing someone a favor, you ask, “May I please give you my card?” as if the recipient is doing you the favor. And you certainly don’t pass ten cards to the person on your right so he can take one and pass the rest down.

In Japan, the receiver of a business card never puts the card away with only a quick glance at the text. She reads it carefully, sometimes studies it for a minute, and then asks a question or offers an observation, such as “Oh, your office is on Seventh Street? Is this near the museum?” or “How long have you been with Company Z?” When cards have been mutually exchanged, the conversation immediately sounds like a two-way interview, Person X asking a question about Person Y’s card; Person Y answering that question, then asking something about Person X’s card.

Your networking opportunities might not be this formal, but there is something to be said about taking more of an interest in the card you’ve received than in the one you’ve given. Treat the trading of cards as a meaningful connection, and perhaps the quality of your network increases as you value your contacts more. Offer your info as if someone else is doing you a favor by getting to know you, and you create a climate of mutual respect, rather than one where everyone’s out to distribute as many cards as possible in the hopes that one will find its mark, like advertisements dropped from a plane over a quiet neighborhood. We’re going to exchange cards anyway; why shouldn’t we do it in a way that fosters good relationships?


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Professional Networking: Business Card Attitudes - Executive Leadership Articles

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