Military life forces us to meet new people, but after two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic, our social skills may be a little rusty.
Whether you’re PCSing to a new duty station, seeing fresh faces in your neighborhood or meeting up on Zoom, these expert tips from Navy spouse and certified career coach Jacey Eckhart can boost your confidence when introducing yourself to someone new.
1. Know your audience
Eckhart says the first rule of introducing yourself is to consider who you’re talking to. For military spouses, military affiliation shouldn’t necessarily be the first information shared with new people.
“It is an honorable role. We all know how important it is,” she said. “But it isn’t a role that the world understands. When you introduce yourself that way, you alienate the world.”
Eckhart says to absolutely share you’re a military spouse when it’s a connection point.
“If you are in a room with other military spouses and you know it’s going to unite the two of you, go ahead and say it,” she said.
2. Start with your name
Even if you relocate frequently, meeting new people can feel challenging.
“When we move to a new duty station, we feel very vulnerable because we don’t have any connections,” Eckhart said.
After 20 moves, Eckhart recommends simply beginning with your name.
“Saying your own name should give you some confidence. ‘This is who I am.’ Then say why you’re there,” she suggested.
3. Initiate the introduction
Especially for introverts, striking up a conversation can feel intimidating. But Eckhart believes it gives you an advantage.
“When you are the person to begin the engagement, that’s a huge position of power because you get to set the tone,” Eckhart said.
A simple way to spark conversation is to have a few basic questions or prompts ready to go, such as ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘What kept you busy today.’ Eckhart says the weather is always fair game to get people talking.
4. Help others help you
As a career coach for service members, veterans and spouses, Eckhart recommends anyone searching for work introduce themselves along with stating their job.
“If you’re in a group and it has any hint of networking for work, start with your noun, whatever your job is. ‘I’m Lisa, I’m a project manager.’ Or ‘I’m Rachel, and I’m in IT,’” she said.
Leading with your noun helps others know how to connect with you.
“They’re likely going to ask where you work, and you can say, ‘I’m looking for a job right now.’ It all moves you forward,” Eckhart said. “People cannot help you until you give them something to work with.”
5. Know your end game
Sometimes first conversations lead to exciting new connections. Other times, they can be awkward. In that case, Eckhart says it’s important to skillfully bow out, to which she suggested the following phrasing:
“I have really enjoyed talking to you. You have been so much fun.”
And if all else fails, “I am so thirsty. Do you know where the drinks are?”
If a conversation doesn’t go well, Eckhart advises not to take it personally.
“Because of COVID, we are all out of practice talking to new people,” she said. “People are a little more wary. It’s not you, it’s COVID.”
6. Avoid oversharing
As an extrovert, Eckhart jokes that talking to new people has never been a struggle.
“Our problem is that when we meet someone, we’re gripping their arm and telling them our whole life story right away,” she said.
Eckhart says that in military communities, oversharing is fairly normal.
“But two-thirds of us live in civilian neighborhoods,” she said. “Out there it’s a little weird.”
Instead, first-time introductions should be fun, general and focused on common ground.
7. Make the effort
Due to worldwide connectivity online, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with faraway friends. But Eckhart insists we need friends nearby too.
“Cling to your friends from the past, and then make the resolution that as a spouse you need local friends,” she said. “If nothing else, you need somebody to put on your emergency list to pick your kids up after school.”
Eckhart believes every move is an opportunity to be part of a new community.
“I want you to own your space and [know] that you do belong here, and you’re here to contribute,” she said. “Resolve that you are going to be part of this community too.”
Jacey Eckhart is a mentor with AMPLIFY, Hiring Our Heroes’ intensive career preparation program for military spouses. For more information visit www.hiringourheroes.org.