A Better Way to Introduce Your Friends at Parties

Cadence Turpin

Recently, I had a couple friends from out of town stop in for breakfast as they were passing through Nashville. My friend Carolyn came over early to join in catching up with our friends and, more importantly, to ensure that I didn’t burn the bacon.

Our visitors updated us on their work lives.

One works in the public health field and the other works to alleviate child hunger through the nonprofit sector. They told stories of children they’d helped and life-changing projects they’d worked on.

When the coffee was gone, we cleared the table and contemplated holding our friends hostage before reluctantly sending them on their way.

We finished up the dishes, making small talk about where the pans go and filling the silence with clanking ceramic and a running faucet.

I was happy to have Carolyn with me.

After we’d put the last plate away, Carolyn made some comment about how amazing the work our friends do is and before I really knew what was happening, she’d burst into tears.

You see, Carolyn is a meeting planner.

And a really good one, at that. But often, and especially on this day, she can feel stuck when the conversation revolves only around what people do. Not many people understand meeting planning, nor do they know what to ask next when the ever so common “so what do you do?” is posed.

So my friend ends up feeling stuck.

She ends up feeling like her occupation is the only way she can connect with people, and if they don’t find her work interesting enough, then she must not be very interesting.

And that’s a lie, of course.

But it got me thinking. Carolyn is one of the most interesting people I know. It’s why I want her around when I have friends over and why I call her first when I’m looking for sound advice. She knows how to meet you in deep waters and pull you back up for air without panicking or judging how you got there.

She shows up more than any friend I have.

And that’s exactly how I’m going to start introducing her.

I don’t mind being introduced based on what I do, but I would argue an introduction opening a window to who I am would be refreshing for both parties.

*Photo Credit: Neil Conway, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Neil Conway, Creative Commons

What if instead of introducing your friend as Jennifer the nurse, you started introducing her as Jennifer, one of most thoughtful people you know, or Jennifer the friend who helped you move in when you didn’t know a soul in this city.

Introducing your friends for who they are rather than focusing on what they do will remind them they are loved before and beyond their titles. It’s an easy way to remind them that you see them for their hearts instead of their accomplishments.

Our resumes are just paper.

I want people to know my friend Carolyn is amazing at her job, but more than that, I want people to know the stuff inside her that makes her a great friend. The stuff that makes you want to stand by her at a party, in hopes that her thoughtful observations and quick wit might rub off on you.

Let’s stop introducing the people we love based solely on what they do, who they cash their checks from, or what’s on their twitter profiles. Let’s instead start reminding them of who they are. Let’s start conversations that don’t begin and end with who has the most interesting job in the room.

Networking builds an empire, but thoughtful introductions build a community. Where will you lay your bricks?

Cadence Turpin

Cadence Turpin

Cadence is a writer and natural celebrator. She is a copywriter and also the co-founder of Common Table, a bimonthly culinary and community experience made for her neighbors in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow Cadence on Twitter (@cadenceet) for regular updates.

  • Ashley Penn CMLI

    Men do this all the time. When we meet each other we say ‘So what do you do?’ Although its usually meant harmlessly we might as well say ‘So where abouts in the social order are you? Are you as important as a doctor or a rich as lawyer, or are you just a..?’ Its a way of subconsciously sussing each other out. Nowadays I try and ask ‘So how do you like to spend your time?’ so even if they are currently unemployed they have an answer to give that is hopefully more stimulating and doesn’t place all their worth on what they do. Great article.

  • Yes yes yes to all of this! I have been saying this for the longest. I am so tired of people starting with “so what do you do” as a mindless default. THIS is so much more genuine. I am happy that others are sharing tips for better connecting. THANK YOU for this.

  • Katie Diotallevi

    What if you’re not even a “meeting planner”? What if you don’t work for a living? What if you are a Stay at home mom whose kids are away at university. I often say I’m a “kept woman” when pushed to answer the What Do You Do question. My husband is a physician and so I don’t need to work although I was doing a job a few years ago but had to quit when i developed painful arthritis in my knees. However, I worked the whole time my husband was in Med school and paid all our bills, rent etc. with my earnings. He is forever grateful and feels we are a terrific team – he never makes me feel any less for not being “gainfully employed”. I do volunteer work and spend time daily with my 92 year old mother who has dementia and is in a nursing home nearby. I’m also spending a lot of time building up my physical strength at a gym to help deal with the arthritis – can’t get new knees yet as I’m ‘too young’ (55!) Anyway – a long way to say What I Do. If I try to say all that, it sounds like I’m making excuses. My husband isn’t always there to give me the complimentary introduction your article suggests. Sometimes I’m in a room full of working women who intimidate me with their appearance, their accomplishments and their air of judgement. The only other comeback I can think of is to say “I’m a human BEING, not a human DOING” but then I probably won’t be invited back!

  • Hannah

    This is insanely relevant for me personally. A few months ago, I left my career without having a new plan. Most people thought I was absolutely batty, but I was absolutely certain that I needed space to determine what the appropriate next step was for me. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, but the transition time made me keenly aware of the “What do you do?” question. Society has conditioned us to find our identity in our profession. When you walk away from that, when you are in transition and possibly pursuing a totally different career, who are you? What makes me “Hannah”?

    I deeply appreciate the perspective in this article and hope that people will not see it as a universal rule to apply in every social situation, but rather as an opportunity to see beyond vocation as a source of identity. We are much more than that as human beings, and our value is much more complex. How do you define yourself? How do you want to be defined by your friends in introduction? How would they prefer to be introduced? The extra step to find out seems worth the effort.

  • stephgob

    I love this! I am more than my career, and love being introduced as a triathlete during my race season b/c Lord knows I get pumped talking about that w/ people…and hopefully recruiting some new athletes into the cult of triathlon. 🙂

    I have certain friends that when I introduce them, I try to think of an easy commonality between them and the person to whom I’m introducing them. A good introduction means I can walk away, return to the people I recently introduced, and there is still an engaging conversation taking place.

  • Mimi Adams

    I don’t think I have ever introduced friends to each other with what their profession/career/job is unless it was relevant, i.e. both are SpEd teachers, both are counselors, one is a professor of psychology studying evolutionary psychology and the other is studying human learning under certain types of conditions, stuff like that.

  • Guest

    I usually introduce people by saying how I know them. This is so-and-so; we met during orientation week at college. I wouldn’t introduce an old friend by saying, this is so-and-so; she works at wherever. Because that’s not what’s significant about our relationship.

  • Mickey Weyenberg

    Through my participation in all things dog-related, I have met literally hundreds of people, and for most of them, I have no idea what they do for a living, i just know how much they love dogs!

  • Annis Cassells

    I love this idea. It goes right along with a newsletter column I just wrote on appreciation. Thank you.

  • I know you can not put how wonderful you are in the title above as this is work, but I want to thank you for publishing such an insightful article. I have often thought about it, but never took the time to think about how to introduce my amazing array of friends.

    As a single male, I can only offer my work is the measure of my existence that most men too heavily rely on when introducing ourselves. I will certainly be thinking about how I introduce each friend in the future. I will certainly be sharing this with my social media followers.

  • Serious Questions

    Who introduces their friends based on what they do? If I’m going to give details, it’s to mention how we know each other (e.g. “my good friend from grad school, Dana”, “Tim from my soccer team”).

    EDIT: Also, I notice that your author blurb starts with what you do.

    • Maria

      I agree 100%! And are people really so inept at introductions these days that we needed this tutorial?

  • Alice PD

    I like that. A lot. Thanks.

  • garbles

    My preferred approach is to introduce people with what they have in common or things I think they would be interested to know more about. This article actually threw me off because I don’t know that I have ever seen friends introduce friends by their jobs before unless two people worked in the same field.

  • Callie

    Can I borrow Caroline? I have very good friends … but sometimes aren’t available when I need them most … naturally, their family comes first … sigh!!! I don’t have a friend that I can hang out with on a Sunday afternoon just shooting the breeze or go for a walk … naturally, Sunday’s are family days. I have a daughter and husband who I love with everything I have but I don’t need them to be with me all the time. I want a friend to go window shopping with and laugh at the ridiculous fashion … I love my friends, honestly, but I want a pal!! I already love Caroline!!!

  • Josh Knoll

    Excellent and enjoyable writing – about a very great idea. I’m on board.

  • Flynntucker

    If I am at a business or corporate event, I introduce through job related titles. If I am introducing between friends, I try to introduce based on commonalities.

    Work/work related: this is bob. He works in accounting with Stacy.

    Friends: this is bob. He also loves to scuba dive and loves the Maldives, too. Bob, this is Jane. She has been to the Maldives 500 times and is a scuba instructor.

    If I’m with strangers, the job thing can come up. And even when I worked food service jobs, I found that it sparked very interesting conversations. But there’s a time and place for everything.

  • Miranda Paley

    I like introducing people as, “X is passionate about Blank (which can be their job but doesn’t have to be), likes Blank (some factoid/their favorite in some category) and is the Blank-est person I know.” Do that for two people and you’ve guaranteed that they will have at least half an hour’s worth of stuff to talk about.

  • Antonio Lodico

    I like to ask people “What trouble do you get into?” and/or “Whats something interesting youve seen//heard/done recently?” as an icebreaker. The answers (when they arent crickets) are way better than hearing someone just dive into their job for 15 minutes.

  • Steve Hammond

    What is wrong with “Hi, I’m Steve”, and extending your had to shake hands”

  • keirele

    My favourite way to introduce people at parties is to identify a common interest between the two. That way they’re both invested in the conversation.

  • vonn_new

    When I meet new people, I sometimes ask, “What don’t you do?”

  • Christian Genco

    It’s a lovely idea, and I see the problem Turpin is trying to solve (not putting a label on someone, which immediately dismisses their humanity), but in experimenting I’ve found it immensely difficult to connect to this afterwards, which is the entire point of introductions.

    Consider the following two examples of Abby introducing you to Bob. It’s your job, socially, to say the next thing in the conversation.

    1. Abby: I’d like you to meet Bob, he’s the manager of the construction project just down the road.

    2. Abby: I’d like you to meet Bob, he’s one of the most thoughtful people I know.

    What Abby needs to be providing here is a launching point; some quick and easy way to get you and Bob talking about something you’re seemingly both interested in (even if one, or both of you, is just pretending, and even if you both know you’re just pretending – socially we’re just trying to grease the gears here so you can evaluate if you want to keep talking to this person or find a socially polite way to bow out).

    In the first example, there’s a lot of next things you can say. You could ask Bob about what it’s like being a construction manager (using the cheesy but incredibly successful tactic of following up with “ooo, that sounds hard”), you could ask some particulars about the project (“I saw you guys bring in that huge crane thing last week! What is that?”), ask how long he’s been a construction manager, ask if he likes working for this particular company or on this particular project, relate the project to something you have in your background, etc.

    Yes, it’s mostly superficial banter, but it gets things moving, and it gets them moving without high danger of immediately insulting them. It’s just work, afterall.

    But what on earth are you supposed to say when Bob is introduced as being thoughtful?

    * “Oh yeah? What did you do that was thoughtful?”
    * “Oh how neat! I have an aunt who’s very thoughtful.”
    * “How long have you been thoughtful?”

    These are all terrible options. In five minutes of turning this over I can’t think of a single good response. If Bob were introduced to me like this, I’d try my darndest to immediately steer the conversation somewhere else (“Hah! That’s awesome! So what do you do Bob?”), or, once things turned inevitably clumsy, try to immediately make an exit.

    All of that to say: I see what Turpin is trying to accomplish, but I don’t think it’s a good solution.

  • Cristal

    When people ask me that I reply, “oh me? I sell babies on the black market.” It’s gets a shocked laugh and a mixed bag of reactions, heh, and then I go on to discuss other fun non-work related things.

  • Blake

    I was at a party about a month ago, and someone I had just met began discussing work with me in the pretty typical manner you might come to expect at parties. Usually I just listen politely, knowing neither of us are particularly interested, but this time I decided to take a different approach. I told him I knew we both only talked about work because it’s what we’re supposed to talk about. He laughed, and asked what else we could talk about. I thought for a moment, and then asked him what he would do if he was given five years to do whatever he wanted with unlimited resources. He immediately got excited, and proceeded to tell me about his passion for traveling and how he thinks it is important to engage with people who exist outside your bubble in order to remain human. By far the best party conversation I have ever had.

  • Trip Hunter

    Love this-nicely done, but it seems that you might rewrite your bio at the end to reflect this wonderful approach.

  • I could not disagree with this article more, an idea I first heard bantered about in the 1960s.

    When you introduce a friend through YOUR SUBJECTIVE OPINION of them (the most thoughtful person I know), or YOUR EXPERENCE with them (is at my house more than anyone else), you instantly rob me of building my own unique experience/connection with them. It’s like when someone says, “I just know you’re going to love Greg (because I do, is implied). Problem is, I almost never do.

    But when you introduce me to someone through an objective fact (where they live, what they do for a living, what their favorite movie is etc.) you give me the chance to make my own connection without your filter attached to it. Maybe YOU aren’t interested in accounting but maybe I need an accountant right now. Maybe you think leatherworking is silly but maybe I want to learn how to do it too.

    Not saying we should ONLY introduce people through their work. But it is not BETTER to introduce someone with our own opinion of them attached. Please let me meet your friends in an objective way and build my own assessment/connection without yours as baggage, thank you.

  • Kenneth Aaron

    Absolutely. Thank You. I have said this for years. If someone insists – and they DO – It’s “Whaddya Do..?” —— “Sheep.”

  • BMKE

    love this…I like to ask “how do you know so-and-so, or how did you first meet so-and-so?” it can be funny, serious, or otherwise interesting, and sometimes you get some really juicy stories !

  • Cathy

    Wait, there are people who introduce others by their career/field? Don’t think I’ve ever encountered that before.

  • Joanna Knowles

    Great article. 🙂 I think the main thing is to ask yourself how the other person would want to be introduced.

  • Kristin Souffrant

    Awesome article! Saw this posted on Facebook from one of my youngest daughters previous English teachers page.. After reading the post I saw your name and thought what a very small world! I am pretty sure you were friends with our oldest daughter Kelsey in middle school?

  • Not Mother

    If your friend feels so ashamed because of her career choice, maybe she should get another career that isn’t so boring.

  • Wilbur

    Every idea here, every single one, is still a label — regardless whether it’s based on what one does, did, likes, has wanted to do, or how one tends to behave. All are rooted in the past. But the wake does not drive the ship. Live in the moment. Discussing the music, food and drink, or mood in the room may seem superficial, but it is the zen of being in the present. Other facts, opinions and desires to discuss will flow naturally in their due course, grasshopper.

  • RosalieChampagne

    Love this post! I tend to introduce people just the way Bridget Jones does it 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P_vKA8gpk0

  • Wow! I must say that it was a surprise for me to learn that people introduce their friends as “Jennifer, the nurse”!
    Actually, what the author say about this “new” way of introducing our friends, is the way I use to introduce mine. And also, it is the way a lot of people I know use to introduce their friends.
    Maybe it because I am Mexican and, of course, live in Mexico. Maybe the way we see life and how we perceive and appreciate others’ value is more personal and friendly, than professional. We really value the qualities and personality of others and don’t pay a lot of attention to less important things like the profession or occupation of people.

  • YES. yes, yes, yes. All this value being put on “what do you do”, but a person’s worth isn’t measure by this job. There are so many small things that will tell you more about someone, than what they do for a living! Love this.

  • Thank you Cadence this is wonderful, I too wish we could get to know people for who they are, not what they do.

    I recently blogged about this same idea, from the point of view of someone still figuring out their career path.

    Feel free to check it out:
    http://acupofteawithkelsey.blogspot.com/2015/01/what-are-you-going-to-be-when-you-grow.html

  • Karl Booth

    This is a great point everyone has something to offer and status and jobs is rediculous and sometimes quiet boring.

  • Laura Lee

    Beautiful! I want to start doing this, too.

  • htkatt

    I realize that this isn’t a party, Cadence. But there is a certain irony to reading a long story about why we shouldn’t let our professional tasks or titles define us outside the office and then read your mini-bio which is ONLY about your professional life.

    I don’t particularly agree with the premise of your piece. I think work and those things that aren’t wedded to our personal lives provide a safe way to make initial introductions. Then, if the connection warrants it, we can dig a little deeper.

    It’s nice to see that you do the same thing at the end of your columns.

  • Grant

    That is very impersonal thing to do to your friends. I have not known anyone to introduce someone along with their job title in social situations. That just seems impersonal and insensitive. We all bring certain value to the situation and should not be reduced to a job title or function. I would never do that to anyone – especially anyone I cared about.

  • Amber
  • I love this!!!

  • I love the message of this post. I teach women how to tell their stories online and it’s such a challenge to figure out how to distill everything there is to know about us into a Twitter profile, or even an About page. There are no easy answers. It is great that you see your friends in such deep and clear terms; I wonder, how does Carolyn see herself? I hope she can begin to see herself not just in the beautiful and powerful terms you use but in terms that feel real and right to her. We need to be able to tell our story to ourselves before we can tell it to other people. Anyway, thanks for sharing, I LOVE this and hope many people will take your advice. We are more than how we earn a paycheck. Even when our paid work is aligned with our values, we are more than it. And there is nothing saying that our paid work has to define our story.

  • No matter how much I read or try but at the end of the day its the confidence that’s shaking and never so good for me.. @disqus_K1ZNsFWQoH:disqus your story is adorable