Carefully craft verbal greetings

I recently went to the emergency room with severe vertigo. My world was spinning. 

In the first 30 minutes of being in the ER, as expected, many staff members came and went into my room. Nurses, clerks, helpers, technicians, custodians, physicians…it was a busy place. 

Each person who entered my room greeted me, which was good. But some greetings were more appropriate than others. For instance, some greeted me with a smile and an upbeat greeting, “Hi, how ya doing?” 

I was tempted to say, “How do you think I’m doing? I’m in the ER with acute vertigo. Why are you greeting me like I just sat down at a fast-food restaurant?” 

But I sensed they were good-hearted, well-meaning people so I said something like, “It’s been a challenging day.”

The physicians were more subtle and emotionally tuned. They would greet me with “Hello, I’m Dr. ____. I’m here to help you. What’s been happening?”

The experience reminded me of the importance of carefully crafting appropriate greetings. 

Greetings are important. Whenever we come in contact with another human we need to graciously acknowledge his or her presence using carefully chosen words and appropriate body language. A proper greeting creates a friendly social space and a pleasant beginning to conversations. But in each instance, we should evaluate the social setting and the person we’re greeting, and customize an appropriate greeting.  

Phone calls can be particularly tricky because we’re not privy to where a person is or what’s happening in her life at that specific moment, whereas when we’re physically with someone (like in an ER) it’s easier to appraise what’s happening and assess their emotional state.

Recently I blew it. I called a friend who was suffering with depression and started the conversation with a cheerful, “Hey Charles, how are you doing?” I should have said, in a subdued tone, “Charles, this is Don. I’ve been thinking about you lately. I know you’re going through a difficult time.”

Verbal greetings are important; if we neglect this social norm, we’ll appear unfriendly. But don’t depend on generic, one-greeting-fits-all-situations type greetings. Take a split-second to evaluate each setting and craft a proper salutation. 

18 Replies to “Carefully craft verbal greetings”

  1. Don,
    Thank you for sharing your recent experience. I am sorry to see that you suffer from vertigo. My father occasionally endured BPPV. Hopefully, your medical team will soon sort out the cause.

  2. Very helpful comments today. I get overly aggressive, I know, when reaching out to people. I want to bring cheer and support. You are so right, also, that I need to tone down a bit at times. Made me think today. Thanks

    1. Kathryn, thanks for taking the time to write. I’m trying to discipline myself to pause 1-2 seconds before I greet someone, just to read the situation and develop an appropriate greeting. It’s a constant challenge for me. Take care.

  3. I think that was a good read. And also helpful to read your Insight with your experience with Charles. I’ve been guilty of saying, “Oh, I’m fine” when I’m really frankly not. That can be okay at times because people typically don’t really want a real-life live litany. Nor is it okay to pour your heart out every time when asked. I typically smile when I’m really not great; this is my overall demeanor actually and sometimes a coping mechanism, not disingenuous, and it’s just who I am. I really don’t try to smile to cover things up; it’s just my nature, and I think it’s good to find something positive in many things.

    I do recall when a doctor years ago asked, “How are you?” and then secondly he would say, “How are you really?” I think if people really want to know, they will be discerning and ask more specifically if they really care to.

    We don’t and shouldn’t really wear our hearts out on our sleeves for every single person: only for the trusted few.

    In summary, I think it’s important to think about the type of questions we ask people. It may be advisable to say, “Hi, good you see you” than, “Hey there, how are you?” as a trite commonplace greeting if you really don’t want to know. And it can be okay to not really want to know, but if that’s the case then don’t ask! (Newsflash: people who are suffering with issues tend to notice).

    This may be a bit sensitive, but I’ll go ahead and say it: in my opinion, for example, hearing a greeter at church say, “Hi there, glad you’re here” or, “Good to see you” or, “Hi, welcome” works better than, “Hey, how’s it going?” because people really don’t want to hear in passing, and I don’t think people want to inspire others to not be truthful. Likely it probably comes from very well-meaning people, and it’s up to me to just ignore that in a way and smile and move on. The thing is, sometimes I wince internally, which is not really I think what people trying to be cheerful inspire people to do. So it’s up to me to chill out and cut people slack.

    1. Jan, I’m tempted to substitute your thoughts for the post I wrote. Well said and worth saying. Truly, you think so clearly. I like your phrase “Hello, it’s good to see you.” That should work in most cases (except a visit to the ER). Take care.

  4. Dear Don,
    Wise words! Your experience of the lightweight greeting in the ER must have been irritating at best. I have crafted my reply in similar circumstances by saying “I wouldn’t be here if I was feeling great, would I?” So long as the tone is right, it helps the other person realise their greeting was inappropriate. We only learn when we recognise our mistakes.
    In a hospital, just be aware of why they are asking certain questions. Thankfully, I overhead the nurse say to a colleague, “Have you done the neuro obs?” before he launched into a series of questions to my elderly father. When my father was asked “Where are you?” he imagined they were asking where he was in his treatment and answered accordingly. The nurse then insisted but “Where are you?”. Thankfully I was able to to intervene at that point and explain to dad that they wanted to know the place he was in. Not having any mental deficiency, he could then easily tell the nurse that he was in hospital.

    1. Thanks, Angela, for your thoughtful response. I like your phrase “I wouldn’t be here if I was feeling great, would I?” There’s just enough push-back in that phrase to be helpful to the one who is asking questions.
      Good communication is so hard to do. Last week, a colleague of mine and I talked for about a minute until we realized we were talking about two different things. Communication is difficult but oh so necessary.

  5. Thanks for this, Don.
    We have a close-nephew who lives on the east coast. He is very ill, so it is definitely appropriate to consider each greeting.
    I was reminded of my Grandmother’s displeasure when she was once in the hospital and was greeted in the morning with, “Uppsi-dai-sy! Time to get up!” –Ug!
    Hope you are indeed feeling better. Before I was diagnosed with BPPV and appropriately helped by a Neurologist, it seemed like a screwdriver was poked into my head, stirring my brains around. I recall that it hurt terribly, though I cannot now describe that feeling. —An inappropriate comment at that time could have driven me dangerously close to the edge. As it turned out, physical manipulation of my head then, and later as it attempted to return resulted in a “no-drugs” treatment. So grateful!
    I certainly hope that you are doing much better. I would be interested in your diagnosis and education concerning further treatment. — God’s continued blessings be yours.
    ….by His love,

    1. Thanks, Karen, for taking the time to write. My vertigo came and then went…hopefully for good.
      I’m so sorry for your diagnosis; that sounds like excruciating pain. I hope your daily treatments bring relief. Take care, Don

  6. Great reminder and personal examples, Don. It’s one more indication that we need to slow down, so that we may think, ‘What is this person’s need?’ over and above OUR need/desire to DO something. I hope the vertigo does not return!

  7. Hello Don:
    I am one of those individuals that works in diagnostic radiology within an emergency room for the past forty (40) years. Recently at our staff meeting we had a discussion about the constantly changing healthcare environment. Where we must realize it is a crisis for the patient to come into the emergency room. We need to put the patients needs above others, be compassionate, professional, knowledgeable and listen. Bottom line we were instructed to think with our brain not our emotions. Forgive easily as there are many different opinions out there currently.

    1. Charles. Forty years working in the ER…I admire that; thanks. My son-in-law is an ER Doc so I’m familiar with the stress that the staff is under. You’ve got to think clearly and act fast. Take care. Don

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