A person never feels good being called into the manager’s office. When I was a much younger man, jaded and virginal, I interviewed for a promotion at the non-profit agency where I worked, and was subsequently summoned to speak to my boss, Holly. It’s important to point out that, although this was an internal promotion, my boss had little to do with the selection process. The people above her at the “downtown office” did the interview and would be in charge of making the selection. If I had a business, I would absolutely make sure there was an office ‘downtown.’ It wouldn’t even matter what would actually transpire in the office; I’d only want the ability, given the right opportunity, to refer to the ‘downtown office’ in a voice that implied great importance.
“Will we be getting a raise this year?” my employees would ask.
“My friends, I’m going to have to ask the people at the downtown office about that,” I’d say, knowing full well that the downtown office was really an empty room.
But I digress. Holly wanted to talk to me about an important matter. She, it seemed, was not entirely comfortable with the idea that I would be given a promotion. “Do you think you have the people skills needed to supervise other employees?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “I like people.”
Something was bothering her. “It’s just…I don’t know…when I pass you in the hallway, you never say ‘hello.’”
“Yeah, a nod.”
“Hmm…I don’t pick up a nod.”
“There’s definitely a nod, like this,” I said, and then I flicked my chin at her in a minute upward motion.
“I’m going to be honest,” she said. “It looks like you’re the front runner for the promotion. If you get it, I’m going to want you to say ‘hello’ to people…instead of that…nod.”
“I can do that,” I said. And then later I got the promotion and continued to do my little nod and only said ‘hello’ if Holy was in the vicinity.
I relate this story because, lately, I’ve been contemplating the importance of the ‘office hello.’ You know what I mean. You walk into work. Clearly, you don’t want to be there. These are the first moments of your work day – your arrival time. Guess who’s already there, in the building? Coworkers (cause they get there early/on time). How important, really, is the ‘hello’ they give you? For my whole life, I never thought the ‘hello’ meant anything, and was actually a little annoyed by it. Lately, however, my tune has changed. Call it the remix. The ‘office hello’ remix. With guest appearances by Hello Kitty and Todd Rundgren.
Last year I worked at a public school in Korea. Every day I would walk into the office, where there were about twenty teachers, and nobody would raise their head from their work or even look in my direction. There were no hellos, head nods, or waves. Not in Korean or English or Tagalog or any language. No ‘Wassup!?!’ or ‘How’s it hanging?’ or ‘What’s shakin, bacon?’ None of that. Not a smile or a peace sign or a high five or that cool thing where you take both of your index fingers and point at the person.
Instead, I entered as if I was Kevin Bacon (‘What’s shakin, Kevin Bacon?!’) in the movie Hollow Man. Invisible and evil. I wondered if my invisibility would enable me to sneak excessive coffee or spy on Elisabeth Shue. To any extent, when you walk into the room and not a single person acknowledges your presence, it’s a bit of a bummer.
“That’s a Korean thing,” every Korean I talked to would tell me. “We don’t really need to say hello.”
“Gosh dang it,” I said, using slang as I often do, “I dig a good hello. I didn’t realize it when it was there, but now that it’s absent, I miss it. Sort of like Hot Pockets.”
I would kill for a Hot Pocket. I mean, I wouldn’t kill myself. That’s silly. Or a friend, or an animal, or anybody else if it meant I had to go to jail. So let me rephrase. I would kill a human stranger for a Hot Pocket, as long as it meant no prison time. That is how badly I miss Hot Pockets.
Again, I fear I’ve gotten off point. I was terribly unhappy at that public school, where there were no hellos. At the same time, I was pretty happy and content at the non-profit agency, where people typically said ‘hey’ to each other, by way of words or head nod. Perhaps one could gauge the entire worth of a job by the quality of its hello. That is my insight into today’s working world. Hopefully, the people at the downtown office will agree.