How to introduce yourself to new people without looking like a total weirdo
We had to ask an expert how to talk to other human beings
It’s an inevitable situation, and it’s causing you anxiety – your mate from uni is bringing their best friend down to visit, and you’re keen to impress. “She’s so excited to meet you”, you’re unwelcomely assured. “He’s heard so much about you”, you’re told.
As your friend leaves for the station, you try to hide how nervous you feel. You’re the new best friend, the new kid on the block, the young pretender; what if they hate you? You have to make a good impression.
The front door slams and you sit anxiously in your chair, unsure whether it’s too early to stand up. As the door opens you stand up, slightly too quickly, and fake your biggest smile – pretending you’re actually really excited to meet this random person.
You approach, arms as wide as your eyes as they extend a formal arm. Shit. What ensues is a blur of awkward hugging featuring an arm in the stomach, uncomfortably close to their groin, alongside muffled apologies and uncomfortable laughing.
I’ll make a joke of it, you think, kidding yourself that it’ll eradicate the horror that just unfolded. Wrong. The joke dive bombs with everyone around you and leaves in it’s wake a silence even more awkward than the original hug-shake.
How can you avoid this happening ever again? We asked body language expert and author Judi James, who regularly features on TV shows such as Big Brother and Sky News, for her tips and tricks.
There’s no way of predicting what they’ll go for
You don’t want the embarrassment of asking your friend and looking like a psychopath, so you presume that they’ll be friendly because they’re Northern. All Northerners are nice right? That’s just a thing.
Wrong, says Judi. “There can be what I’d describe as cultural differences but this isn’t just about the area or country of origin. Some families are more open and tactile and others more reticent.”
Instead, she recommends you look out for some “announcement” gestures. She explains: “When we use these we create great choreography but when we don’t i.e. if our approach is a bit sudden and jerky, it can set of a trail of miss-hits and dithering.
“Make sure you look at the other person as your approach them so you can see any announcement gestures from them and also make your own intentions clear by gesturing while you’re still a few feet apart. This is just a subtle signal like raising one hand out for a shake or raising both to show you’re going for a hug.”
Don’t look too stiff or too keen
Judi suggests you tread the line of friendly and formality, saying, “I’d suggest a ‘blended’ greeting where you shake hands but also pat on the arm to show a desire to be mates too. Keep the hand shake quite light-hearted rather than making it too businesslike.
“Don’t pat hard but make it friendly and pat the upper arm on the outside. When in doubt take the lead unless it’s an interview or client meeting or meeting with parents. The worst thing is a dither, especially if you then try to chat your way out of any embarrassment as it will just get worse.
“Given the choice it’s probably better to err on the side or formality. At worst you’ll seem a bit of a cold fish but if you’re too touchy-feely you could make them worried.”
What about if you’re meeting them in a club?
Judi advocates location, location, location. Let your environment lend a hand.
“If they’ve come to your home you should instigate the shake-pat ritual as a form of welcome, and as the host it would be your job to go first. If you’re in a club though you could probably opt for the pat alone plus a nod and smile.”
What about meeting friends parents?
Romantically involved or not, meeting parents is always a daunting prospect, and one which requires a careful approach. Judi suggests you “prepare for anything and watch to see what they’re offering.”
Don’t instigate the greeting – you think it looks respectful, like a young upstart. They think it looks cheeky.
And whatever you do, don’t sweat. “Be prepared to mirror what you’re offered and don’t go first. If you’re nervous, wipe sweat off your hands before you get into view. Wiping them on your jeans at the last minute looks horrible.”