Remember this scene in the movie American psycho when all the rich young bankers sat around the table competing with each other for who had the most perfect business card. The texture, the type face, the quality of the card and the beautifully embossed printing. It was a symbol of success and an important part of marking your career progressions up the greasy pole.

Last week I met with a group of external guests at our offices. As is customary I present each one with my business card and eagerly awaited them to do the same, mostly because I had immediately forgotten their names between being introduced in the foyer and walking into the room. But wait as I did no cards were given, there was some humble apology of forgetting them and one person offered up a recent job change as the reason for not having one.

Then I noticed that my team members also failed to offer their cards, even though I know they all have them. So what is happening to this basic business etiquette? Has it been outcast to become something we used to do in the old days? Is it seen as out of date and old fashioned to now give someone your card at the start of a meeting? 

I have to confess that I was disproportionately annoyed by the lack of business card exchanges, both from our external guests and from my own team. Personally I like the ritual of exchanging cards on first meeting someone new, it provides both a practical and emotional connection. It breaks the ice, gives you valuable information about who the person is, what their position is and insights into their brand.

In Asia the exchange of business cards is almost sacred. There is a right and a wrong way to do it. You must receive the card using both hands and the study the card long enough so as to acknowledge the persons details before carefully putting the card away in a safe and respected place, namely not shoved into your jean pocket or used as a book mark in their marketing brochure! During my time in Asia I came to love the whole process and understood the importance of it, it really helped build relationships with people. After all, isn’t that what business is all about, connecting with people and building relationships?

So is the business card dead? I really hope not! I wouldn’t mind so much if there was a technology alternative that everyone used, but there isn’t. Some people try to use linked in and connect after the meeting but for me this seems a bit hollow, it lacks the personal nature of choosing to share your information upfront, not when you have been ‘qualified’ after the meeting has finished!

Relationships are based on a foundation of trust and that just takes time to build. The humble business card is a small but important tool to help this relationship along a bit. So as a grumpy Gen X’er my hope is that the millennials take care of this important ritual and have the patience to invest in building trust in business. Many things can be sped up these days but human relationships isn’t one of them. There’s no app that can replace the feel of card in your hand and the warm smile that accompanies the exchange of cards. Just as books have survived the digital age, business cards will remain (hopefully!)

Long live the humble business card!

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