In the last several months, I’ve started to notice more and more how often people (the same people, not all people) will pass me in the hallway and ask how I’m doing as they pass me by. There’s no intention to the question beyond a greeting, they definitely don’t plan on or have interest in hearing the answer.
Now, I feel like here in the States and especially in the Midwest where we’re not necessarily kind but we’re kindly responsive or perhaps performatively responsive by default, this is pretty common. It’s not that we don’t know these people, or really if there was an issue we wouldn’t want to know about it. But we’re conditioned to respond to this “hey how you doing?” or “hey how’s things?” or just a simple “hey whats up?” as if it’s a hello. We say, “good”, “fine”, “oh you know” in response as easily as we might just say a hello.
This isn’t uncommon, but I feel like I’ve started to notice it more often because I’ve been trying to train myself to say something else. It’s a challenge really, for me, to try and greet people by name when I pass them in the hallway. So instead of a “Hey, how you doing?”. I specifically try and say, “Hey, Paul.” No more, no less. I started it because I felt like I was always passing people and doing the standard what’s up nod, or weird white people smile and not actually engaging. And then when people did want to say something to me, I wasn’t getting anything out in time before we passed each other by.
There is something sort of freeing, especially if you’re not really good with people or have anxiety, about being able to say something to someone in passing in a situation where no response is needed or required. You see someone down the hall, you say hello, you keep moving. I don’t typically have a problem talking to people, but I was feeling like in my corporate setting I was more comfortable passing quietly and then would feel bad when someone did say something.
Now that I’ve been doing this purposefully for sometime, the “Hello, [Name]!” Comes pretty easily, especially when I work on the same floor with the same people day in, day out. However, it’s made it far more noticeable when people ask a question they don’t want answered in response.
Me: “Hey, Stacey.”
Stacey: *keeps walking* “Hey how are you?”
Well, Stacey, do you actually want to know? Whether she does or not is sort of irrelevant in this situation. Because Stacey never broke her stride while she was asking me that question.
So here’s my new challenge. I don’t respond. It feels so ingrained, so habitual and instinctive to respond with a generic “fine” or “good” to that question. But it’s rarely true, or so simple to say and why am I bothering? One could say that it’s polite to answer. But I’m not trying to be polite to someone that’s only greeting me by way of performance.
I don’t know. Maybe it turns my challenge to be kind and engaged with the people I pass daily into a challenge to be unkind? But I also wonder how many people actually notice when you don’t respond. If I don’t say “fine” does it lose either of us anything out of the brief engagement? I don’t think it does. And I’ll go further and say that I think it’s helping train me out of snap, instinctual responses. It makes me think about the manner in which I greet people: a compliment in the elevator, a simple hello with their name, an actual question about their day/week/weekend. If I’m honest in how I start a conversation, then on the other side of the coin, I want my answers to someone else to be just as thoughtful.