|Revision 1.0||September 2006|
Several years ago I attended a meeting in an unfamiliar building with a group of unfamiliar people. I sat at the meeting table, and the person to my right began talking. It was obvious that this person was in charge by his demeanor. He seemed to know most if not all of the people in the room and all about the subject of the meeting.
I was lost. As I said earlier, I didn't know who this person was, I didn't know who the other people were, and I was ignorant of the subject of the meeting.
Somehow, I mustered the courage to interrupt the person to my right and stuttered the words, "Excuse me. I don't know most of the people here. Could we go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves?"
To my surprise, the person agreed and told everyone his name and title. I went next and said, "My name is Dwayne Phillips."
Before anyone else could introduce himself, the meeting leader burst out with, "You are Dwayne Phillips? I have been trying to contact you for weeks. I really need to talk with you!"
A similar thing occurred after each person introduced themselves. Most of the people present didn't know anyone else either.
The meeting was one of the most productive I have ever attended. People talked with one another, got phone numbers and addresses, formed small teams, and went to work on what would become a successful project. All this came about because we introduced ourselves before starting the "real" meeting.
What struck me most about the meeting and the introductions were the qualifications of the people in the room. These were smart, experienced, and accomplished people. The person running the meeting had run several, successful $100M projects. The other people in the room had similar experiences. They each represented organizations with hundreds of people and $100 million budgets. They each were qualified to lead major projects. We all, however, were sitting in a meeting in progress without knowing who the other people were.
People are important. They are important to the lives of other people and important to our endeavors. The odd thing is that we often attempt relationships and endeavors without first knowing the names or anything else about the other people we meet. The concept I advocate is know the people before trying to do anything else.
This doesn't involve any elaborate ceremonies or devices. It is as simple as saying, "Hello, I am Dwayne Phillips. What is your name?"
I think that feelings cause us to skip this concept and flounder. The other people in the room were already well-acquainted with one another. They looked like they were a group of people instead of a gathering of strangers. I felt like an outsider; I felt fear. My fear was real, and it led me astray. My assumption - everyone else already knew each other - was wrong. They didn't know each other and they didn't know me. What was surprising is that they wanted to know me. They also needed to know me to accomplish their project.
The principle of introductions should lead us to do several simple but sometimes unnatural tasks. First, I need to realize that regardless of the task or situation people are the most important element. This is often a blow to my ego. The great project that I created and am running seems paramount. How could one person sitting in the corner of a room be more important than the project that is the pinnacle of my life?
Second, as much as I wish it were otherwise, this is the real world and everyone on the planet has yet to be introduced to everyone else. This is an odd thing to admit. When I am with people who I don't know, I feel like everyone knows that I don't know everyone. When I am with people where I know most of those present, I feel that everyone else knows all the people that I know. I am usually wrong in both cases.
Third, time is precious, but not as precious as the relationships among the people. I must take the time to introduce myself and allow everyone else to do the same. Only after I know the people I need to know, I am ready to begin the work.
Finally, fear is natural when meet one another. It is okay not to know everyone in the room. It is also okay to be afraid of introductions with strangers. Time, a smile, and a polite hello do much to reduce fear.
The time needed for introductions is costly. Not knowing someone else can cost a project much more. There will come a time in a project where a person needs to go to another person to give or receive information. People who don't know one another are more likely to sit back and not gather or share information. Projects fail at these moments of trepidation.
Introduce yourself to the other people with whom you work. They feel as afraid as you and know as little as you. A simple introduction does much to remove these shortcomings.