by Ada Hasloescher
Before I leave my home or office, I always check to make sure I have a sufficient number of business cards with me. In fact, I generally keep a stack of them wrapped in a rubber band (not very glamorous, I know, but practical) in all of my purses, attaché cases, glove compartments, and the various tote bags I tend to schlep around— just in case. The business card is usually the first item of introduction. It represents us and our practice.
Whether attending an organizational meeting, a networking event, or meeting someone for the first time, when it comes time to exchange business cards, I’m always surprised by how many business professionals don’t have their cards at the ready—or even with them at all. They start rifling through their handbag or digging into their pockets or wallet and coming up short. And oh, the excuses!
- I forgot to bring them with me.
- I left them in my other bag, other jacket/on my desk/ (fill in the blank).
- I must have just given out my last one.
- I know it’s in here somewhere (while not finding it).
- I have to order more… I’ve been meaning to do that.
So now, what do you do?
- Stand there while they try to find something they clearly don’t have, while attempting to make them feel okay about it?
- Dash off somewhere to find a cocktail napkin and scribble their information on that?
- Take the time to input their information into your smart phone?
And, what does that say about their intention, preparedness and readiness to do business? What first impression do they impart if they forgot to bring a basic calling card with them to an event where the main order of business is doing business? Before you think that I’m making way too much of this, please indulge me while I make my case. What, fundamentally, is any personal meeting or professional gathering but an opportunity to meet new people, exchange information, find common ground, share resources, and refer business—otherwise known as “networking?”
So, what’s the big deal? They forgot their business cards. But, what comes to your mind when you’re standing there with your card extended waiting for them to find theirs (or not)? What impression are you left with? For me, I’m assessing whether or not I want to do business with someone who didn’t think things through and come prepared. I’m concerned that they may be the sort of business person that could drop the ball. I’m wondering if they may be sloppy in their approach to their work. Do I want that person on my team? Would I refer one of my precious clients to them? Can I count on them to follow through? You may be thinking, “Boy, Ada, are you judgmental! Aren’t you being a little rough here? After all, they only forgot their business cards – they didn’t kill anyone!” LOL! Fair enough.
I’d like to suggest that, as human beings, we are also judgment machines, whether we realize it or not, or like to admit it or not. I’m willing to cop to it – I realize it and I’m admitting it. We’re always making judgments about people and about our situation. That’s part of the human survival mechanism—it’s as reflexive as the fight or flight instinct. And, although we’re not being chased by tigers any more, we still assess situations to decide whether something is good for us or bad for us. I have a friend who attempted to start a fledgling business using a particular skill she honed after years and years of working in corporate America. She, admittedly, is not an entrepreneur, but she did set out to see if she could get something off the ground. When I asked her to read my first draft of this article, she shared an interesting insight with me for which she gave me permission to share with you. She confessed that she was one of those people who always went digging to the bottom of her bag trying to come up with one of her cards (not even being sure she had them on her). She said she was ambivalent about her new business and realized, while reading my draft, that she probably imparted that uncertainty to potential clients, and hence, her business never got off the ground. It wasn’t so much that not having her business cards with her was the cause of the demise of the business, per se, but rather that she never considered she may have transmitted a subliminal message that her heart was not really in it. This was a real eye-opener for her.
Consider the message someone sends when they are not prepared. And, more importantly, consider what internal judgment you have about the message they are sending. The key here is to just be aware of the feelings you have and the assessments you are making of them. It’s in those subtle interactions that many of our decisions are made, unwittingly. I say, bring them to consciousness! We want to be as aware and conscientious in our interactions with potential business relationships as we are in our mediation practice.
So, where are your business cards???
Ada L. Hasloecher is the founder of the Divorce & Family Mediation Center on Long Island, New York, a former board member of the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation and a Founding Board Member of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators. She is also a trainer at the Center for Mediation and Training in New York City. Ada is frequently asked to present workshops and seminars on divorce mediation as well as professional practice development, marketing, building, and practice management.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of The Professional Family Mediator.