The Most Valuable Word In The Economy of Human Interaction

How a small, simple greeting extends yourself to others, and opens the door for otherwise missed connections.

In the business of people, “Hello” is worth millions.

My first “real” job was sitting across from people convicted of DUIs. After a series of questions, I would write recommendations for judges who would sentence them.

I now work with executives and entrepreneurs to determine where they are heading, I make introductions, organize teams, and facilitate conversations for a living.

Even though these groups of people are vastly different, the questions and the methods are very similar.

In all of this, there is one word that I have found to be the most valuable in the economy of human interaction: Hello.

The Power of “Hello.”

This word has allowed me to build meaningful connections with people around the world. Whether in Dubai or Denver, I’ve wielded this greeting to disarm, acknowledge, and invite. “Hello” has enabled me to confidently visit multiple countries and several major cities in a span of months.

I’ve said “Hello” to thwart a potential attacker. I was walking on an empty street when a man tried to get me into his car. My response was filled with so much poise and purpose, he sped away.

I’ve said “Hello” to a man being held in jail before trial. The fact I recognized him as a human being and not as an “offender” established instant rapport for the duration of our interview.

I’ve said “Hello” to a friend’s father who was feverish with typhoid. It was our first meeting; he couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Nepali, but the respect and reverence our initial interaction contained set the tone for a beautiful relationship. He would come to call me his daughter.

Today I said “Hello” to a complete stranger in the grocery store. She was evidently frazzled, and her eyes were filled with exhaustion. But our brief interaction had a visibly positive effect on her.

“I believe every single person deserves to be acknowledged, however small or simple the greeting.”
-Howard White, VP for Nike’s Jordan Brand

From the company’s founder to the employee serving lunch, White makes it a point to care. He is a former professional athlete, founded a youth motivational program, wrote a book, and serves as VP for Nike’s Jordan Brand, but you won’t hear him say he’s “too busy.” (Hear more about his philosophy in his 2008 NPR interview.)

White recognizes that when we separate ourselves from others, we limit our own potential and that of those around us. When you say “Hello,” you extend yourself. It’s an offering, a giving.

In a world of frenetic behavior and evident signs of pain and struggle, “Hello” paves the way towards connection. Yes, it can be a cursory pleasantry, but it can also be an entryway into something much more.

The quickest way to make a first impression

Whether you like it or not, judgments are made about you before you say hello. In as little as one tenth of a second, a stranger can make assumptions on your competence, aggressiveness and likeability. From the way you’ll behave during an argument to how you present yourself in a meeting--all sorts of opinions are being formed. With a single photograph, viewers were able to make fairly accurate assumptions of complete strangers. Your “Hello” can confirm or deny their predictions.

Whether meeting a new client or assessing a potential partner, your first moments have the power to direct your relationship. The manner in which you engage and approach can dictate how the rest of the experience is going to unfold. If you enter a situation meek and afraid, that’s the response you’re going to get in return. But if you enter with confidence and step towards a person or new experience, it’s going to come back to you with equal force.

Think carefully how you say “Hello.” Put some effort into your greeting and see where it takes you.
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--Michelle Welsch is the founder of Project Exponential, a dinner series that brings together individuals as diverse as venture capitalists and sex therapists. She is a New York State Licensed Masters Social Worker and has worked alongside criminals, entrepreneurs, Seth Godin, and Buddhist monks (in no particular order). To learn more visit www.michellewelsch.com.

[Image: Flickr user Spot Us]

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6 Comments

  • Thank you. Brilliant. I would add to "Hello", "Please", "Thank you", and "I'm sorry". These four words together are the very essence of effective personal interaction. They can open doors that were shut, cause favour to chase you down, and make friends out of enemies. They have the power to change the direction of one's life. It is not magic, it is because, as you say, they recognize the individual's need for acknowledgment and to be valued.

  • Ariane Hunter

    This article nails it! We have the potential for creating meaningful relationships and deeper discussions if we just learn to step out of our bubble. Hello; so simple, yet so powerful.

    Brilliantly done Michelle.