Why I Changed the Way I Say Hello

Can people really change? While trying to realize her own potential, this author learned it's all about a person's mindset.

“Hello.” “Hey!” “How are you?”

Greetings are a person’s first line of defense.

Your response or lack thereof to another human’s salutation sends a very direct message, and subconsciously, we’re all aware of this.

But have you checked in with your subconscious on how you’re responding to others recently?

As someone who has an RBF — and as someone who really capitalized on it until I realized the importance of being vulnerable — I have heaps of now-friends (and even a husband) that have told me how “scary” and “intimidating” I was before they got to know me.

I know my 6’ stature doesn’t help with that first impression…nonetheless, I don’t want that to be another’s first impression of me. They might not summon up the courage to even say hello!

I love meeting others — so what a horror that they might not want to reciprocate that!

Armed with this knowledge, in college, I made an extra effort to initiate greetings and conversations with others.

Perhaps it’s the Midwesterner in me, but a golden nugget of advice that my husband’s grandfather passed along — “Always be the first to say hello” — has truly changed my life and attitude toward meeting others.

By jumping to greet others first, I could open the door to a relationship with a friendly greeting, rather than sitting back and letting my RBF and height dictate whatever first impression another may conclude.

But even if you’re not looking to make a ton of new friends, the way you greet others reflects a lot on you as a person and can change the other individual’s day.

The power of hello

Hello is a powerful gesture — it signals connection, acknowledgement, relation.

Whether you’re acknowledging a homeless person or a colleague, eye contact acknowledges their personhood, and that can be a powerful thing.

Stopping to chat with someone signals that they’re worth your time and attention — and in a world where the norm is to have everything we could ever want this second from a phone glued to our faces, is there a better message than ‘you’re worth my time’?

Simply, a greeting is a chance — one that shouldn’t be attached to conditions, but one that should be afforded to all people.

But do all people deserve being given that chance? Especially if it is a second chance that you’re offering?

The importance of mindsets

I used to fall under the camp of people that believe personality is fixed — that you become an adult with a fixed set of traits and it’s ridiculously hard, if not impossible, to change those traits.

As Dr. Carol Dweck terms it, I had a ‘fixed mindset.’

And I had never questioned that conclusion — I believed that was something that I had ‘experienced’ and that most other humans would draw the same conclusion.

That was until I started consuming self-help books and trying to realize my potential. I had goals and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that would lead me to achieving those goals.

So when I finally took the recommendation from my husband to read the ‘life-changing book,’ Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dweck, I was in agreement with her in that humans can gain intelligence and new skills that lead to success — heck, it’s why I’d picked up her book!

But when I read that the research pegged success in those arenas as springing from having a ‘growth mindset’ in all areas of life, rather than a mindset that believed (any) traits were fixed, I found myself at a mental crossroads.

Yes, I believed hard work and deliberate practice led to success…

But I’d known some pretty seemingly shitty people in my 25 years of life. Can people really change any trait they set out to, like their personalities and inner motivations?

The funny thing about mindsets is that research shows they’re self-fulfilling prophecies — you can change if you believe you can, and you won’t if you don’t.

If I wanted to succeed in achieving success, I needed to believe change was achievable — across the board!

And reciprocally, it would be hypocritical for me to believe in my own potential for growth and not in others’ — no matter how that person had treated me in the past.

My fixed-mindset past self would have sulked and been angered at the ‘trick’ this book was trying to play on me by talking me into giving out ‘free’ second chances.

But by rejecting the potential for others’ growth by not offering those chances, I wasn’t ‘protecting’ myself — I was hindering my own growth. And who am I to knock others off the path to fulfilling their potential, too?

Reflecting growth in greeting others

In the practice of appreciating and recognizing my own potential for growth, I try to mirror that belief in how I greet all humans.

Sure, I already always tried to be the ‘first’ to say hello for my own selfish gains of dispelling false first impressions and making new friends — but this new motivation goes deeper.

Starting with the belief that all humans inherently deserve love and connection and that all people have the potential to be great and do amazing things, I challenge you to put that kind of oomph into your eye contact, handshake, and hug.

Our greetings should embody the notion that all humans have the capacity for growth.

If we venture into each new encounter with that level of fellow recognition, it shouldn’t matter what kind of day we’ve had up to that point or if we’re nervous about an upcoming calendar event.

We can be where our feet are planted and acknowledge that human being in front of us.

That person has a unique identity, one that is worthy of acknowledgment because of its capacity to love, grow, and make the world shine a little brighter.

And if you’re reflecting that enthusiasm for their personhood, that infectious belief might just get carried onto the next task they seek or human they greet. You might actually get others to believe in their potential to grow and do great things.

And if, person by person, we infuse that potential into the whole of humanity, one ‘hello’ at a time, one day just maybe the whole of humanity can achieve their potential for good.

That fire could start with just the spark of an authentic ‘hello.’ What do we really have to lose?

Grotto quote graphic about if people can change: "All humans inherently deserve love and connection and all people have the potential to be great and do amazing things."

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