Meeting, greeting and getting down to business

Meeting, greeting and getting down to business

The notes contained in this section are relevant to the opening phases of business meetings or negotiations.


15.1.1 Key considerations

The opening phase of any discussion is often critical, as the skill (or otherwise) with which it is handled often sets the tone for the negotiations which follow and therefore has a bearing on their success or otherwise.

The aim, essentially, is to establish a basis for communication with people whom you do not know at all or do not know well. By starting discussions with some neutral topic the people involved can get to know each other, trust each other and find their common ground. It is an important phase in any meeting with strangers. If it goes well, a solid basis for discussing matters of importance will have been laid down.

It should be acknowledged, of course, that the duration of this phase varies from culture to culture. When opening discussions with Germans or Finns, for example, it can be kept short – but even then, you don’t just launch straight in. With native English speakers, it may be a little longer. In all cases, some use of small talk is made in order to put people at their ease and establish common ground. In Asian cultures the process may be prolonged due to the emphasis placed on establishing an atmosphere of social harmony.

When meeting someone for the first time, there are of course certain obvious and socially conventional phrases that can safely be used, such as ‘Pleased to meet you,’ or ‘I’m Peter Jameson’. However, there is a great deal more to first meetings than the mechanical repetition of a few pleasant platitudes. In fact this kind of thing should be kept to a minimum. It is necessary to greet people and ask how they are, and necessary to give some sort of response to this question, but it is also basically quite boring and should be kept fairly short.

After all, one of the working definitions of a bore is:

Someone who, when you ask them how they are, tells you.

Keeping this in mind, remember that when an English native speaker asks ‘How are you?’ or ‘How’s it going?’, the usual answer is ‘I’m fine’, ‘Great’ or words to that effect. They do not really want to know how you feel – the aim instead is to establish social harmony by making conventional small talk.

Therefore, if you are in reality feeling down because you have a slight cold, or you got a parking ticket earlier that day or you stepped in a piece of chewing gum that you can’t seem to get off your shoe, or the coffee served on the train was stone cold and tasted foul, remember that your host will not be interested in hearing a full recital of these facts – unless you can turn them into a humorous anecdote.

In the same vein, a comment or two about the weather is perfectly acceptable by way of introductory small talk, but a lengthy exposition on the prevailing meteorological conditions and influences in the local area over the past decade will be received with a certain amount of disbelief.

In other words, you should try to get through this stage of small talk efficiently, without undue haste – but equally without lingering pointlessly on unpromising details – and then move onto the next stage.

15.1.2 Useful phrases

In the meeting and greeting stages, the following phrases may be useful:

Conventional greeting

Hello. How are you?

Nice to meet you.

I’m Giles Dangerfield, managing partner here, and this is my colleague Jane

Arthurs, our finance director.


The weather’s been great recently, hasn’t it?


Terrible weather we’ve been having recently.