One of the areas in which we frequently make these unconscious choices of words is in greeting others. Does the following sound familiar?

Jim: "Hi, Bob. How are you?"

Bob: "Hi, Jim. I'm fine. How are you?"

Jim: "Fine."

Bob: "Good."

Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with that common exchange between two people. It's probably repeated millions of times each day and usually in a friendly manner. But it's also done a bit mindlessly and has now become our standard greeting ritual. Do we really want to know how people are, or do we just want to hear them say "fine" so we can move on? In most cases it's the latter.

Several years ago I came to the conclusion that every greeting has in it at least four wonderful opportunities: (1) to be a bit more imaginative and creative, (2) to have fun, (3) to lift someone else's spirits, and (4) probably lift our own. During an average year at the high school, I had about 170 students. Since I met each one of them at the door before every class, I gave and received 170 greetings a day. There were handshakes, hugs, high fives, low fives, knuckle bumps, and a variety of other ways they chose to greet me. And each one came with a warm verbal exchange. It was incredibly energizing to start each class this way.

At the beginning of each year, I would get the standard "How are you?" from about ninety percent of my students. But they didn't get the standard "Fine" in return. I had a variety of answers, but my favorite was, "Well, I was good. But now that you're here, I'm even better!" Because it was an unexpected response, it usually provoked some laughter. And because I genuinely loved teenagers and was sincerely happy to see them, my answer also brightened their day. It was always a win-win situation.

I also had a variety of questions that I asked them when we greeted. I tried to avoid the standard "What's up?" and "How's it goin'?" Instead, I asked "SP" questions, which I also taught them to ask. "SP" means "strategically positive." It means the question is specific and will always elicit a positive and specific answer. Here are a few examples of SP questions:

  • Who's someone you're thankful for? Why?
  • What's been the highlight of your day so far?
  • What's the best place you've ever been?
  • What's an important goal you have?
  • Who's your best friend? Why?

    In all, my students and I developed more than a hundred questions. We found that they accomplished a number of things: The questions made the other persons feel important, the answers always led to more good questions, and the conversation that followed was always positive and upbeat. They're simple and they work. How we greet others is a choice. Good greetings make for better relationships, increased energy, and more fun.
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