While we may complain that no one means it when they ask “how are you?” in fact, the communication is genuine. This is a greeting, and greeting another is a fundamental first step to establishing a relationship, to connecting and to communicating.
Whatever greeting is appropriate in your setting, it should be made with a smile, good cheer, and implied general good wishes. How brief or familiar depends on your existing relationship with the person you are greeting.
A Stranger in a Strange Environment
If you are greeting someone you don’t know at all, and maybe have never seen before in a public setting all you need is to project awareness. People feel better when they are seen by others, conversely, when ignored, we feel sad. No matter where we are and with whom, we still have a need for community. When you are walking through the lobby of your building, or in an elevator with any number of others all getting to or leaving work, have a smile in your eyes. If your glance falls on another acknowledge it with a warm expression. If the occasion seems to suggest it make a light remark. All of this acknowledges your presence in each others space appropriately and shows respect. If you someday (or soon) meet that same person in a meeting or as a new team mate you already have established a platform for a positive collaboration.
If you see each other often but have never been introduced: “Good Morning / Afternoon/ evening”
If you work near each other and intersect frequently but don’t know each other: “How are you today?”
The greats I have known:
Many of my colleagues have left me with examples of professional manners and grace. Someone I worked with was the Economic Development Head of a City. Of course everyone knew him and he was expected to know everyone. As we travelled to agencies, corporations, government institutions, universities, in the offices of the most junior to most powerful all would greet him. He would always say, with great relish “How are you today?” (With emphasis on today). I thought that was brilliant. It acknowledged their shared past, the continuation of their business relationship, and his goodwill towards their shared objectives. People always smiled around him.
Those who you work with
People who see each other every day naturally greet however, just because we know it is expected doesn’t mean we know how to be appropriate.
Some stand and chat at length, some offer a short good morning that ends all interaction with their cubicle mate for the day. Is chatting required to create a good atmosphere? How much is too much? What content should it include?
Make the other comfortable. We all have a need to say something to each other.
A professional speaks from their role with respect to the role of the other. Ask yourself: what is my role? What is my message?
This is an example of classic communication and messaging. What you say and how you carry yourself should be directed at your objectives, in the context of your shared humanity.
What is most important to remember is your role. Each communication speaks to the relationship, and your individual and mutual objectives.
If you work in the same group but don’t speak frequently “How are things with you?”
If you are cubicle mates: How did it go with (something in their personal life that they have shared with you).
If you work on teams together but not in close proximity:” I was thinking of you the other day, or yesterday, for example and link a workplace question you might have had.”
If you are following together a work or life experience such as a new baby, family wedding, big presentation, or project deadline: “What is the latest?”
The greats I have known:
One of my work mates was a great sports fan. He demonstrated a joy and passion in sports that created relationship in the sharing of it. He gathered facts and implications and wove them into the greeting, creating a moment to share. Regardless of one’s interest in sports the ‘sports minute’ was sheer entertainment. He even elevated it to bonding by helping the participant understand well enough to pass on this same greeting as the day went on.
Each person’s passion and interest can be used to share a team building moment.
Who you don’t know or don’t recognize
Many have said that a measure of one’s manners is how you act when you think no one will notice. On our way to and from our workplaces we pass each other in crowded buildings, we stand together in elevators, and go through doors together. We usually don’t greet each other in these scenarios but we could, and sometimes we should.
Whether we are reserved or shy, outgoing or introverted we must recognize that there is something to be gained by recognizing moments where a greeting is expected, is helpful, or gracious. We affect each other in the moments we are in proximity, even if we haven’t been introduced. How we treat strangers and those we meet over a work day is part of our work life and the cultural atmosphere in which we experience our careers and our professional selves.
There is an art to saying hello to a stranger in line, or on an elevator or, for instance, lining up to board an airplane. The greeting may be all we say to that one person, or it may begin a conversation. We may never meet again, or this may be the beginning of a friendship or professional relationship.
We want to greet and have the greeting be enough without closing the metaphorical door. Imagine as you acknowledge another how it will go the next time you see them. This is the key.
The greats I have known:
I worked with someone who had friends everywhere he went. If you accompanied him for a coffee, or lunch; if you passed by the security person in the lobby, in stores. All of these people knew him and he knew them. They chatted, passed the time. The interchanges made his day rich and being part of his ‘entourage’ was a joy. I studied him to see how had accomplished it. He made the many encounters in his day rich. Not one passed by without a connection made. And some of these had turned into friendships. All were ‘people in his neighbourhood’
If notice you are passing the same person in the hall from time to time or riding the same elevator coincidentally, it is fun to mention it and it breaks the ice for the many next times you will naturally come into contact.
“ I have finally come out of my day dreaming long enough to realize we pass each other often. (pause for acknowledgement). I look forward to the next time! “
“ Lining up for the elevator : A casual comment or light joke can be the end of the hello. “ I see we are both luck enough to have made it to Starbucks on the way”. As you leave their space you can say the ubiquitous “Have a good day”, or “ Safe travels”. The greeting means more than the words themselves.