You had me at hello

by | Aug 14, 2019

The world seems so complicated. Human beings are so intelligent (we all want to appear intelligent, don’t we?) that we tend to make things more complex (harder!) than they are.

When encountering people who are different from us: physically, socially, culturally, intellectually, visually, we UNCONSCIOUSLY either avoid them or awkwardly greet them, feeling a bit wary. More often than not we struggle to communicate smoothly, or we don’t think about how we are behaving. How many of us can feel totally comfortable surrounded by unfamiliar people?

At a recent Aboriginal Cultural speaking event, a participant asked how to connect with Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal guest speaker simply walked to the participant, gave her a hand shake and said “Hello”. Brilliant.

It reminded me of the Leadership in Intercultural Environment Workshop I facilitated. The participants held top management positions within a resource sector. One of the topics was Communication and the group discussed greetings and then practiced how to greet. Those people were smart. They did not ignore the value of a small greeting. Later, they went back to their workplace and made sure that they greeted people at their workplace as sincerely as possible. The result was amazing. After one month, 95% of participants reported a positive change in interactions with their staff at their workplaces which had increased communication amongst them.

So, when we want to implement the 30+ pages of a Diversity and Inclusion plan, how about starting from a sincere, genuine and warm “greeting” to those different from ourselves. It is the simplest and most effective way to connect with people across borders.

I am originally from Japan. I speak English reasonably well as a second language having lived here for 10 years. However, I still can’t help feeling a little uneasy or insecure, walking into an event filled with people from an Anglo-Celtic or European background. So I wonder how international students are coping in the first few weeks at an Australian university? Walking into a lecture hall filled with a huge range of people and trying to find a spot to sit.

What helps me always, is the moment someone walks up to me and says “Hello…”. Immediately my uneasiness lessens.

So – what is a “greeting” really? I am not talking about those heartless, unthinking mechanical greetings. I am talking about a sincere acknowledgement of another person. It is all about acknowledging and being acknowledged. A sincere greeting sends the message that we value the person in the moment. A big fussy ceremony is not necessary in an everyday situation. A simple eye-connecting, consistent acknowledgement will go far. Smart leaders know this will increase staff engagement and retention rates as well as work performance. Just by sincerely greeting those in close proximity, at work or elsewhere, every morning or evening.

Okay, we need to have a plan here because “greetings” are apparently not as easy as we think they are.

How are you going to greet your neighbor newly arrived from Syria? How are you going to greet an Aboriginal person sitting nearby at your bus stop? How are you going to greet a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, standing alone at a business networking event? How are you going to greet a person in a wheel chair, newly employed at your workplace? How are you going to greet an Indian gentleman who always wears a bright orange turban when attending your child’s school? How are you going to greet an apprentice who has autistic tendencies? How are you going to react if you don’t get the reaction you expected?

How willing are you to make an effort to sincerely greet and connect with people who are different from you?

Tips for successful greetings at workplace:

·        Greet sincerely & warmly sending the hidden message that the person is important
·        Pay attention to your tone, facial expression, and warmth of voice
·        Add his/her name if you know, to the greeting
·        If possible, add a short sentence to the greeting that makes the person feel good.

Rika Asaoka

Director/Training Facilitator

Rika Asaoka from Language and Culture harmonises and unifies people in the workplace and communities. She provides interactive workshops, trainings, facilitation and mediation on Intercultural Effectiveness. Her facilitation style is known to leave a lasting impression on participants. Also an Intercultural Readiness Check Licensee, Rika is certified to use the IRC, a powerful internationally recognised tool for improving intercultural effectiveness.

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