Moments after he walked in the room I thought, "Oh, so now you want to act all nice to me?"
A friend owns a gym. As a favor he asked me to interview applicants for front desk positions. He wasn't happy with how recent hires worked out and wanted a fresh take.
The job itself is simple: greet members, show prospective members around and sign them up... but mostly do a lot of standing around and talking to other front desk employees. (I keep telling him he should find more things they can do.)
Front desk employees aren't trainers or fitness experts; their primary duty is to be friendly and welcoming. That's the main reason he kept hiring the wrong people: he chose candidates who had experience in client management software since that made training easier... but hard skills can be taught. Attitude, personality, likeability--those qualities are impossible teach.
So this young man walks in the office to interview with me. Big smile. Hearty handshake. Enthusiastic hello. He's on.
Unfortunately I've seen him before. As he sits down I think, "You work out here, I've probably run into you dozens of times... and not once have you ever nodded, ever smiled, or in any way deigned to acknowledge I exist."
And unfortunately, in an interview for a job where being friendly and outgoing is the primary requirement with an interviewer who knows how he behaves outside the interview setting, his work was definitely cut out for him.
Maybe it's because my parents placed a premium on courtesy and politeness. Maybe it's because I live in a rural area where drivers on country roads tend to lift a hand in greeting to the people in the cars they meet. Or maybe it's because smiling or nodding to anyone I make eye contact with just naturally feels like the thing to do.
But what isn't a "maybe" is that fewer and fewer people seem to feel the same way. Even people who don't live in small towns tend to run into some of the same people on a regular basis. Like the guy a couple of streets away who is always walking his dog when you leave for work. Or the gal you often cross paths with when you're both grabbing a bite to eat.
We don't know those people, but we know them. And they know us.
Take the gym. I work out nearly every day. There are some people I've seen at the gym dozens of times, that I've worked out within feet of dozens of times... but who still look through me or immediately look away every time I nod.
Some are a lot younger than me. I get that. To college kids, 50-plus year-old men are just part of the landscape. We're not relevant. We don't matter. They're young, we're old.
The same is possibly truer with young women. My friendly nod could be interpreted as a test: "If I nod back then this old dude might try to start a conversation and even try to hit on me... I better not encourage him." I get that too. (Yet another thing--like unbuttoned shirts and Corvette convertibles--creepy guys have ruined for the rest of us.)
So why don't more people nod? Why don't more people offer that little smile of recognition? Why don't more people exchange a simple, "Hi," as they pass by?
Some days I feel like I'm the only person nodding--and I feel somehow diminished and oddly stupid when people don't nod back.
It's strange. We all like to be recognized. We all crave a sense of belonging. We all want to matter. We all want to be noticed, even if just in a small way. Tell me it doesn't feel good when someone you don't know recognizes you as a person they often see.
All we have to do is start nodding more. And start smiling more.
While I'm far from Emily Post, here's a standard I think makes sense: anyone who's eyes you meet for more than a second or two gets a nod. Anyone you've seen more than twice--even if you aren't friends and have never been introduced--gets a smile of recognition, especially if you're in a place you frequent regularly and are likely to run into them again.
If you need one, here's a practical reason: the next person you need something from--a sale, a referral, a contact, or even just a favor--may be the same person you have for weeks and months treated as if he or she doesn't exist. Good luck when that person thinks, "Now you want to act all friendly towards me?"
But you shouldn't need a practical reason. Just be nice.
Every nod makes the world a slightly friendlier and happier place.
That should be reason enough.