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Business Card Psychology 101

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we have our own ritual when it comes to giving/receiving business cards. I call it the “Dance of the Business Cards.” Here are two types of card behaviors. Which type are you?
Written Oct 19, 2010, read 3945 times since then.


The Japanese are very particular about the ritual surrounding the exchange of their business cards.  The business card (or meishi) is presented face up while bowing down, with both hands on either side of the card, showing respect.  The recipient then bows down to accept the card with both hands.  Upon receipt, the card is read immediately and then placed carefully in an appropriate business card holder.  Stuffing the card in a pocket without reading it, folding the card or writing on it shows great disrespect.

The Business Card Dance

I love going to networking events, not only to meet people, but also to observe how people interact.  It’s a great study of psychology and sociology.  Whether we’re aware of it or not, we Americans also have our own ceremony that surrounds the business card, even if it’s not as obvious.  I like to call it the “Dance of the Business Cards.”

The purpose of networking is to meet both interesting people and people interested in you and your business.  So how do you know if someone is interested in your business – and better yet, how do you show your interest to another party?  The clues are all there.

Are you Proud of Your Business Cards?

There are several behaviors I have noticed over the years. Here are two types of business card people at networking events…

Type 1: The Enthusiast.  These people have their business cards available in a snap, always ready and willing to give out their card at a moment’s notice.  You can tell right off the bat that a person like this is excited about their business and happy with their business cards and the image they present.

Type 2: The Detractor.  This person has to dig for their card in pocket or purse, sometimes never producing one at all, maybe saying they left it in the car.  This person is either generally unprepared, or, more likely, somewhat ashamed of their business card or their brand image.  Just one more reason to always present a great brand image at all times!

Card Wrangling

When you give someone your card, pay attention to how they handle it. Do they look at it? Do they read it? Do they comment on it? When they add your card to the stack in their hand, do they put it in front – or in back?  Fun Fact: If they put it in front, you’re more likely to be seen as a person of interest.  And if they don’t look at your card at all, or just shove it in a pocket, they might not be so interested in you or your business.

...And We Dance!

So dance respectfully, like the Japanese:

  1. Take the card politely
  2. Read the card with interest
  3. Check the back of the card
  4. If appropriate, comment on the card – many people (especially those Type 1s) will appreciate it
  5. Place the card in a neat, safe place

Always be aware of your personal Business Card Dance style and your professional brand as it is represented on your card.  It could mean more than you think!

branding business 
Charleston, South Carolina 
Nora Richardson

Nora D. Richardson, owner of Spot-On Branding, is a brand identity expert, specializing in creating strong brand identities for business owners who want to be in the spotlight and attract their ideal clients.

Learn more about the author, Nora Richardson.

Comment on this article

  • Online Presence and Social Media Strategiest 
Butler, New Jersey 
Michael Cohn
    Posted by Michael Cohn, Butler, New Jersey | Oct 20, 2010

    Excellent article. Thank you Nora.

  • Web design, development + strategic online success building. 
Minot, North Dakota 
Norma Maxwell
    Posted by Norma Maxwell, Minot, North Dakota | Oct 20, 2010

    Love this Nora. I so appreciate good business card design and pay attention to how the paper feels too. I did not know about the respectfulness of the Japanese in their business card exchange...I am always going to be mindful of that moving forward. Great article! Cheers ~Norma

  • eLearning, Presentation Design, Web Video, Voice-over 
Mercer Island, Washington 
Jim Dickeson
    Posted by Jim Dickeson, Mercer Island, Washington | Oct 20, 2010

    Something else I learned from Japanese: In a meeting with multiple people, they will lay out everyone's card that they just received neatly in the same order as they sit around the table. Besides showing respect, it's great for people like me that forget names.

  • Effectiveness & Efficiency Expert, Process Improvement Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Pete DiSantis
    Posted by Pete DiSantis, Seattle, Washington | Oct 20, 2010

    Nora, Excellent. Business card manners, matters.

    I learned in an NLP class to present your card, with both hands (thumbs and index fingers) at the top center of the card. Then present it from the center of your body (heart area) to the center of the other persons body (heart area).

    I have heard about the Japanese ritual and since then, I have always read it carefully and check the back.

    In the future, will be consciously aware of the other three steps I have missed and do better.


    ciao, P>}

  • Custom WordPress & Print Design for Small Business 
Seattle, Washington 
Sheila  Hoffman
    Posted by Sheila Hoffman, Seattle, Washington | Oct 21, 2010

    Great article Nora. Thanks. I have a thought to add. In my interactions with folks I'm always looking for something the other person might benefit from (like a book title, or an online resource). If I find something then I write it on the card right away. It helps me recall who it was and what I planned to email them to reinforce my connection and assure I follow through. SO...I prefer cards that have at least some space somewhere to write on.

  • eLearning, Presentation Design, Web Video, Voice-over 
Mercer Island, Washington 
Jim Dickeson
    Posted by Jim Dickeson, Mercer Island, Washington | Oct 21, 2010

    Careful, Sheila. I agree with Nora's point about not writing on someone's card. It would be akin to writing on their necktie. If I ever write on someone's card, it is only when I am out of their sight. Besides, that what note pads are for.

  • branding business 
Charleston, South Carolina 
Nora Richardson
    Posted by Nora Richardson, Charleston, South Carolina | Oct 21, 2010

    Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments.

    @Norma: I, too, am a paper feeler. I think business cards should be printed on good-quality, heavy-weight paper while incorporating different textures. One of my cards has a spot varnish so you have the contrast visually and texture-ly (sorry, made up word) which really makes a subconscious impression if not an immediate impression.

    @Jim: Thank you so much for adding the additional comment about how the Japanese arrange the cards on the table. Very smart.

    @Pete: I have heard the same thing about how you present your cards to others years ago and I, without even thinking about it, do it that way. Thank you for bringing that to the forefront!

    @Sheila and Jim: If I ever write on someone's card I always go into a corner and jot my notes on them so the person never realizes I am marring their card. I do bring a pad so I can write these "follow-up" resources down.

    Thank you all for the wonderful input!

  • Community Curator | Chief Operating Officer 
Santa Cruz, California 
Iris Kavanagh
    Posted by Iris Kavanagh, Santa Cruz, California | Oct 21, 2010

    Great article Nora! I am a very tactile person, and having worked in a design firm for years I pay very close attention to the design and the feel of a card. I am partial to distinct designs and will always comment on someone's card if they choose high quality printing and a good die cut or emboss. I love the feel of high quality card stock and find myself inadvertently feeling the card when it is handed to me. My favorite card I have ever been handed was one stamped out of a light weight metal. The design was simple with a typograhic brand. I kept the card and use it to display the power of understated simplicity that IMHO always carries more weight than the flashy cards with too much embellishment. I look forward to reading more of your articles as I think I will agree with your perspective on branding.

  • Communication Coaching, Classes & Consulting 
Portland, Oregon 
Karen Mathieson
    Posted by Karen Mathieson, Portland, Oregon | Oct 22, 2010

    Nora, it's grand to have both your thoughtful article and the comments thread calling our attention to the subtle messages conveyed by our business cards, from visual design and texture to the style of their presentation. Oddly enough, I recently had a bonding experience thanks to forgetting your rule #3 about reading the back!

    Someone with whom I'd exchanged cards at a professional event was later talking to me about her visionary approach as a consultant. I responded, "What you're saying reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson that starts, 'I dwell in possibility.'"

    The woman's eyebrows rose in surprise, and she said, "That's on the back of my card." She had watched me study only the front of her card before I tucked it away, so this was a moment of mutual delight. (I didn't have the heart to tell her that my super power is x-ray vision.)

    For about a year I carried a card with content on both sides, and appreciated how that expanded the "working space" for information. However, I frequently found myself wanting to write something on the back, because as soon as people start telling me about themselves, I get ideas about things that might interest them--a business referral, a good book or movie, an upcoming event, or the Biznik URL. Until the space for such notes wasn't there, I didn't realize how much I relied on it.

    Now I'm back to being one-sided, at least in terms of business cards. For me, handing someone a card with a message on the back written just for them is not only a natural behavior but a good business practice.

    (In addition to cards--and of course a pen--I always carry a small notebook in which I can make notes for a follow-up e-mail, or take down the bright ideas other folks share with me.)

    A final thought: Given the care with which one must approach any comment on the personal appearance of others in a professional setting, business cards allow us to offer sincere compliments that are very likely welcome. So, let's continue to celebrate the marvelous diversity of all the creative cards and enterprising colleagues coming our way!

  • Junk Removal & Recycling 
Seattle, Washington 
Angel Stevens
    Posted by Angel Stevens, Seattle, Washington | Oct 23, 2010

    I envy the Japanese. Their etiquette might be a little overly formal, but it's nice and rigid. Over here everyone seems to have an opinion on the right way to give your card and the wrong way. I've had so many conversations with people that get offended by other people's particular way of handling their business card. I don't think it's an issue for passing judgement.

  • Squirrel Army Captain at  
Bellingham, Washington 
Amy  Martin
    Posted by Amy Martin, Bellingham, Washington | Oct 26, 2010

    I enjoyed the comparisons to Japanese customs. I recently wrote some things about S.E. Asia negotiating tactics, so it ties in, rather. Thank you Nora.

  • branding business 
Charleston, South Carolina 
Nora Richardson
    Posted by Nora Richardson, Charleston, South Carolina | Oct 26, 2010

    And the fabulous comments keep coming...thank you.

    @Iris: You and I are definitely on the "same page." I am very tactile to and a HUGE feeler of paper. I love the metal and wood cards. I once did a clear plastic card for an artist that blew glass. That business card got some buzz.

    @Karen: Thank you so much for sharing your amusing story and your thoughts on one-sided business cards vs double-sided business cards.

    @Angel: I didn't realize there were people who got offended by the handling of their business card. Hmm. Interesting. I am never offended by the way anyone handles my business card. My interest is being aware of how others unconsciously handle business cards in general. Thanks.

    @Amy: Great. Glad I could help.

    Thanks again for all the responses.

  • Seattle Feng Shui Environment Consultant, SoulCollage® Facilitator 
Seattle, Washington 
Diane Kern
    Posted by Diane Kern, Seattle, Washington | Nov 01, 2010

    It is not only the Japanese but also the Chinese that have this ritual. Proper respect for the individual and their business card places you in good stead.

    In noisy networking meetings it is also handy to check the card to be sure you understood their name properly. The card design may help you remember their name.

  • branding business 
Charleston, South Carolina 
Nora Richardson
    Posted by Nora Richardson, Charleston, South Carolina | Dec 02, 2010

    Thank you, Diane for informing me that this business ritual isn't just Japanese-centric.

    Good tip, I also check the name on the business card to make sure that I heard the name correctly. And I will always ask a person who has been introduced by one name (maybe a nickname), but the card has a different name, which name s/he would like me to use.