ニシタイ 西葛西駅前タイムズ

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Manner 2017.02.27 Business Cards: A Race to the Bottom

dummy-image I was at my first business meeting prepped in a suit with my business-card wallet carefully placed in my right-hand suit pocket.

A freshman in the company, the specter of being approached while my supervisor was busy elsewhere loomed. So, I found a corner to stand, put on a pleasant face, bowed to people I did not know when our eyes met, and generally kept myself out of the way.
 
I knew I would likely be left as I was until my supervisor had time to run interference. And, so it was that when her hand beckoned from across the room, “come here,” I knew it was time to face my introductions.
 
dummy-image  She placed me next to her, and at the approach of a middle-aged man slightly taller than I, turned her outspread palm to me. “This is our newest employee. She will be helping us on the global front.” And that was my cue to dip my head, fish out a business card from my wallet, and try to try not to stumble over pronouncing my own name.

I had been trained on how to hand over a business card. About fifty-million times. For some reason, when you begin learning Japanese, this is a point on which no instructor fears enough time has ever been spent.
  Turn the card so that it can be read easily. Hand it over with both hands at chest height. Bow and say your name as you do. Thank them as you accept theirs, with both hands. Read their card and say their name or their department to confirm for them that you’ve read it. Put it politely away in your name-card wallet.

I had role-played this moment hundreds of times with tens of nervous students and career counselors throughout the years.

What my newest job had taught me, and that I hadn’t known, is that I am to place my card atop my wallet (as a sort of tray) and stick my card out first to begin the introduction. It was a race to be deferential, and I needed to show I was eager.
I was also to never, ever, write on a card in front of its owner. I had not known people did write on business cards, so I felt relatively safe from committing this infraction. If we were sitting, I was to keep the cards out, in front of me, for the entirety of the meeting. I could line them up according to rank or, should there be too many people for that, put them in order of how their owners were facing me. After the meeting was over, I was to calmly, yet quickly, gather them without dropping or sliding them (too obviously) across the table, and put them away.
 
Fortunately, we were not sitting this time, so I did not need to juggle this in my head while trying to listen.
 
dummy-image I hurriedly fished a card from my wallet and thrust it out at the person before me. I kept my eyes low, and managed to get the proper introductory phrases out first as I handed over my card and accepted his. I thanked him, read his name aloud, and put the card away as soon as I saw him make gestures to do so with mine. When he smiled, and turned to go, I sighed in relief. The first of many done, and without incident.
 
Or so I thought.   
 
My supervisor stiffened and pulled me away to the side. “Do you know who that man was,” she whispered? “That was the CEO. He’s the highest-ranking person here.” She was urgent and I was confused. Why she had chosen this moment to tell me?
 
“Ado,” she said calmly, “you passed your card over top of his. We never pass our cards over a client’s. He outranks you and he’s a customer. You surprised him, coming in on top. Did you see his face? He didn’t know what to do.” 

I felt my own back stiffen and a slight dread settle in my throat. “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.” Was it really that big of a deal? My supervisor laughed quietly and I felt the tension cool. “It’s fine. It was just surprising. I’ve never seen him make a face like that.” She giggled a little more and, though still nervous, I managed a smile.
 
“Let’s just be careful from now on,” she said, and suddenly a surprisingly firm pat landed on my lower back. I jumped and a sweat broke out as my heart raced. My supervisor made a knowing face. “Because, that’s what it’s like to be surprised.”
 
This exchange of business cards, it seems, really can be a nuanced experience that makes or breaks business relationships. And, as my supervisor withdrew the hand that had wacked me, I thought to myself:
 
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“In a race to the bottom, I guess it pays to do all you can to win.”
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