If I am brutally emotionally honest, I really don’t necessarily want to be bothered about 95% of the time… and considering that I work for a ministry, that could be considered a really awkward thing to say, but there it is.
My favorite days involve working in a small space with very little talking. I’m pure rubbish at dishing at the watercooler… I’m just not that thirsty, ya’ll. I want to talk when I want to talk about things that I want to talk about, and when I don’t want to talk, I have nothing to say.
With that clearly understood, I was raised to be polite. So regardless of how my brain reacts to the sound of unexpected (and occasionally unwelcome) voices, I smile and make a certain level (sometimes the bare minimum) of conversation.
Nobody cares if I don’t feel like it. Basic politeness has issued a mandate, so that’s what we underground curmudgeons follow.
“Why bother?” you ask, in a voice that sounds a bit raspy and deadly like a mildly dehydrated David Lyons (I’m not going to explain that… just go with it… thanks). “Why not just be true to yourself and ride the INTJ train off into the distance?”
I’ll tell you why… because when comes the apocalypse, I would like to be rescued, and being rude to people does not reserve you a seat on the “Safety of the Hills” apocalypse bus.
Or, if we’re not going to get all Bert Gummer-y about this, people are technically more important that my own base instincts and initial reactions (unless I’ve sussed that you’re a serial killer).
The feelings of a person whom I find deeply irritating should not be damaged just because I want them to stop talking, and it ultimately costs me less to be kind than it would to repair the damage caused by one moment of rudeness. Rudeness doesn’t pay… and we’d all like to get paid, unless you’re a complete misanthrope, in which case you won’t mind the apocalypse when it overtakes you.
Rereading that paragraph, I realize that it sounds a trifle… robotic… in that my attempts to display good manners are not necessarily borne from a warm squishy place inside that loves all living creatures…
Anyway, I have developed some ground rules. They’re quite simple. A baby could adhere to them (not that babies really need such rules, since they get by on being cuddly and chunky and sweet little flailing balls of concentrated cute…).
1) Make Eye Contact.
I know that you can see me. You know that I can see you. We all know that we all can see us all, so… make eye contact.
Ignoring someone can be perceived as a challenge to a (human) predator.
Of course, staring a body down can also be considered a challenge to a predator.
Don’t issue a challenge or the predator will eat you. Just casually look up… and proceed to step number two.
Even a weak, poor excuse for a smile is better than no smile at all (although it really is in your best interest to sizzle it). Eye contact. Smile. Every. Time.
This move can serve as your greeting if the object is across the room (add a wave, if you’re feeling adventurous). If they are standing directly before you, or are moving in your direction, prepare for step number 3.
3) Say Something.
By something, I mean a culturally accepted statement of welcome or acknowledgment. An alternate approach is the friendly nod, but this can only be used if you are passing strangers in public. You can’t just smile and nod at work or in social settings.
“What should I say?” You ask, still sounding curiously like David Lyons (except in his original Australian accent this time). Well, I get mocked for this frequently, but a script gets me through the first several seconds of an initial interaction.
a. Hello (in some cases you can stop here… play it by ear).
b. Fine, how are you (only to be used if the person makes an inquiry, of course)?
c. Good/ Glad to hear it/ You look very nice (do not say to strangers).
d. How can I help you/ How was your (insert thing that happened that can be remarked upon [medical procedures are a no-no… seriously… we’re in polite company])?
You might have to wing it from here, but if you watch as much television as I do, you can probably come up with something.
Be sure to continue smiling, but try not to look crazy.
You might have to practice.
There’s no shame in practice.
4) Speak When Spoken To.
If someone looks dead at you and says, “Good morning”, don’t be a jerk and follow steps 1-3.
Other things like shaking hands (DO), holding doors (DO), saying “please” and “thank you” (DO) and generally behaving as though you were not raised in the jungle by a bear and panther can’t really go without saying anymore, but that’s why we have Emily Post.
The bottom line is that it’s best to be polite, even if you have to be polite like a cyborg. You don’t have to be a glittering socialite… just don’t be rude. Rudeness is a luxury that you probably can’t afford as you are, for better or worse, an ambassador representing your business and community and even your social circle/familial unit. You’re also, for better or worse, making an impression that will be remembered by each person that you snub and poor impressions may come back to bite you
during the apocalypse in the future, so it’s best to avoid such things, no?