Not too long ago, I was in a waiting room for a routine medical appointment. In recent years, I have intentionally taken time when I am waiting to not look at my phone and to instead observe the world. We spend much of our days staring at pixels, and I like to take this time to focus on human interaction, or in this case, lack thereof.

The waiting room was not a room, rather a hallway, lined with narrow chairs, worn out carpet squares, and pictures intricately hung on the wall displaying the beauty Sonoma County has to offer. After a few minutes I decided to focus on a something a participant from one of our recent leadership trainings in Santa Rosa said. This participant mentioned the power of a positive greeting and the impact it can have on a person’s day. While waiting for my turn in the doctor’s office waiting room, I decided to observe people as they passed by me, not to “test” them, but rather to see how they greeted each other.

For 48 minutes I sat there, watching the world (and people) go by, and not one of the employees or patients greeted me or each other. I was not upset by this, merely astonished as to why no one was communicating. After all, ‘tis the season, right? But that is not what has me writing this article.

I wanted to take time to highlight the lack of interaction I observed because there was one thing in particular that caught my attention. Not only was there a lack of greetings in a world that could greatly benefit from a smile these days, but those who passed by my lonely chair intentionally looked down, or away from my position. My question is why? Why would folks walk by without a greeting and intentionally look down or away. My first guess was nerves, perhaps my position tucked in a doctor’s office waiting room intimidated them. Regardless of the reason why, the impact was clear; the waiting area was cold, intimidating, impersonal, and perhaps anxiety-inducing for some. The lack of interaction caused separation. Separation and exclusion cause a cascade of stress hormones in the human brain and body.

I would like to draw a parallel between my waiting room experience and how organizations often end up operating when we become unconscious about how we interact with each other. As leaders we must understand the power of a positive greeting, as a starting point. As I mentioned in the recent leadership training I delivered, the entire group of participants unanimously agreed that a positive greeting can set the tone of the day.

In my story, I did not expect strangers to greet me, or even acknowledge my position in the hallway; they don’t know me and may even shy away without cause.  When it comes to the workplace, warm and friendly interactions matter, and we want to get beyond being strangers. We want a sense of belonging and inclusion.

I encourage you to take the time to greet your co-workers, direct reports, and managers with a warm smile. Acknowledge and appreciate that they are there with you, ready to participate. I encourage you to observe the world around you and notice the positive impacts of a greeting. Finally, I encourage you to take the 48-minute challenge and put your phone down and observe the world around you and see what you notice.

I choose waiting rooms to make my observations. Where would you like to take the challenge and observe? Perhaps a coffee shop, the drop off line at your child’s school, the barbershop, or maybe it is the workplace. What did you notice? How did you behave? What were the impacts you observed? Email me and let me know. Together, we can create a more positive place to be.

The Personnel Perspective is a full-service HR management consulting firm specializing in human resources, leadership training and development, and recruiting.  The firm’s core belief is that a company achieves organizational excellence through its people. Contact us to learn more: (707) 576-7653.