You Might Have Had Me at Hello, Except You Never Said It

This is one way to make the world a better place

We had passed the seemingly sullen man at least once every time we visited the health club but never said hello. He never looked us in the eye. Never seemed aware that we existed. I’m not sure we acknowledged that he existed either. We were strangers passing each other nearly every day.

The maintenance man for equipment at the health club, he was superb at maintaining his silence. Until Connie made him talk.

“We see each other every day,” she told the man one morning as they passed, “and it seems that we should at least know each other’s name. I’m Connie.”

She extended her hand — and learned his name was Russ.

The difference ‘hello’ made

Since then, both Connie and I say hello and more. And Russ? He hasn’t stopped talking. Exchanging quips. Laughing.

This morning, after Connie and I lifted weights downstairs, we headed upstairs. She to stretch. Me to do some shoulder exercises. When I finished my routine 10 minutes later, I went to the stretching area and found she was parked where I’d left her, not stretching. She was talking with Russ.

The second time today.

“He’s quite chatty today,” I observed, as we walked away.

“I think he’s making up for lost time,” Connie replied. It was Friday but our first day at the gym together that week.

I had been on a business trip, and Connie, recently retired, used my absence as an excuse to skip the gym and put her energies into her five acres of land.

(She had been pulling ornery vines out of the brush and trees, picking up sticks, tending a fire as she burned her debris, and wielding her chainsaw when needed to cut up large branches and fallen trees. I guess that’s a good alternative to a gym workout.)

When we’d taken our customary starting positions on the treadmills earlier that morning, Russ had acted shocked to see us. He and Connie bantered a bit, and he acted wounded when Connie provided her “I’m retired” excuse for her absence. (Russ is counting the days to his own retirement.)

Later, when we’d reached the top of the stairs, Russ was talking with Larry, one of our gym friends. (This once-silent man now talks with everyone.) Certainly, Connie’s initiative transformed his workdays!

Say ‘hello’ to networking opportunities

I’d been at a conference the past week — traveling alone, though a few of my coworkers also attended. I had little interaction with my colleagues, as our jobs and, therefore, classes we attended were different. So I went to networking events solo.

Networking isn’t my favorite thing.

It’s not that I’m afraid to talk to strangers. It’s that I feel awkward inviting myself into a conversation. I feel self-conscious approaching a small table where two or three people are speaking with each other and asking, “Do you mind if I join you?”

It’s like the swimming lanes at the health club pool. I prefer to get my own lane — not because I don’t like sharing, but because I don’t want to be the one who has to ask someone else to share. If I’m first in a lane, and someone wants to join me, I welcome them. But I always fear being unwelcome.

In the lanes on the floor of the health club — meaning the aisles where we so often passed Russ without talking — Connie risked being awkward. She broke the silence by introducing herself and showing interest in the silent maintenance man. It has changed everything.

How many times do we judge people by their outward appearance or demeanor? How many times do we fear being judged by ours? Maybe we should risk saying “hello” — make the most of networking opportunities even when it’s not an official “networking event.”

Why he ‘had’ her at ‘hello’

A famous scene in the movie Jerry Maguire shows the main character (played by Tom Cruise) barging into his wife’s apartment where a group of women are griping about their men. (Dorothy, played by Renée Zellweger, had left Jerry because he’d put his career above their relationship.)

“Hello,” he says, looking around for Dorothy. “Hello.”

He then spews a bunch of words — lovely words, such as “I love you” and “You complete me” — and he keeps talking until Dorothy says, “Shut up” and “You had me at hello.”

It wasn’t the wealth of words Jerry spoke; it was that he made the effort to bridge the gap and broke the silence with “hello.”

As Connie did with Russ.

Maybe we should think less about ourselves and how awkward we feel and simply break the silence with “hello.” Think of others first. Treat them the way we’d like to be treated. 

Remember JOY? Jesus first, then Others, then Yourself? In our self-care society, I’m trying to care less for my own discomfort and insecurity and reach out to others. Read the room — for them, not for my benefit.

Maybe doing that opens the doors to friendship or a more friendly health club or conference or neighborhood or world.

How many people might be like Russ? (Or me?) Waiting to be seen? Waiting to be invited? Waiting for hello?

What if I take the initiative and say hello first?

It might make all the difference.


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