Saying ‘hello’ – it doesn’t hurt

Quill and Curio welcomes Neel Aggarwal as our first-ever guest blogger. Neel is the owner of Aggarwal Financial Solutions Inc. located in Kitchener, Ontario. Neel is in the business of building relationships to help people define short and long-term goals, establish a plan and achieve lifetime financial security. Neel was born and raised here in the Waterloo Region and decided to stick around. He lives here now with his beautiful wife, Katie. If you’d like to connect with Neel, you can find him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

I like to make a point of being nice to people, even if I don’t know them. I hold doors for people, let people in front of me in line, and say hello to strangers as I walk along.

But I’ve noticed something…other humans have an inherent need to be acknowledged. To be noticed, cared for, listened to…and yet when you say ‘hello’ to them, many reach for the proverbial pepper spray.

In my experience there is usually one of a few reactions that people will give me.

  1. They respond with a very enthusiastic “Hi!” or “Hello!” back. This is the least common of the three, but is by far the nicest one to receive.
  2. They halfway mutter “Hi” or “Hey.” Usually when they do this, they’ll make eye contact for a second and then look down/away from you.
  3. They’ll give you a nod while giving you a really awkward, lips-pulled-in smile, making them look like a turtle. Sort of like this:
    Neel Aggarwal
  4. They’ll furrow their brows slightly, concerned that you said “hello” while trying to question your motives. This is the face you get: Neel Aggarwal
  5. They’ll just straight ignore you, or pretend not to hear you, and keep their eyes focused completely forward until they’re about 8-10 feet away from you… (This one is great… They try and look as normal as possible, but end up looking so awkward and uncomfortable… I mean who walks with their eyes unrelentingly straight?)

This phenomenon is never more apparent than when you’re standing in an elevator with a few other people. For some reason, elevators are among the most awkward places for human beings to have to spend any length of time with one another. You know how you can tell? Because everyone stands and stares at the numbers above the door, as if to anticipate what’s coming next. Like it’ll be a surprise or reveal some underlying wisdom in the numbers… “3”… “2”… *DING!* “M”… And people clamour over one another to evacuate the box of awkwardness.

So, why can’t you just say hello to someone? What’s so awkward about starting a conversation with your fellow human beings?

Here we are, a group of creatures of the same species, occupying the same bit of dirt as one another. Each of us identifies ourselves by our social structures/interactions. We have a definite, innate need to belong to something – for acknowledgement and human interaction. And each of us has far more in common with one another than we have different: we all eat, sleep, work and play, right? So what gives?

Well let’s start with physical cues… As you can tell from my photos, I’m not exactly the most threatening looking person in the world. I’m bald, overweight, and my glasses are about as thick as a bologna sandwich. I have good posture, I dress nicely and, nine times out of ten, when I’m with new people I can resist the urge to pant uncontrollably. When you look at me, I can’t imagine one’s “fight or flight” instinct is triggered.

So maybe it’s the subject matter that I use when I strike up conversation? Except I fail to see “How’s it going?” as too personal a question. I’m not one to enter an elevator and ask people which direction they choose to wipe…that could become awkward.

But a simple “Hello” or “How’s it going?” should not logically cause these reactions – so why does it?

I think, if I had to put my finger on it, it’s because we all overthink what people want out of us. We’re so conditioned to think that if someone talks to you, it’s because they have an agenda… “They want something from me.” Or maybe it’s because we think others will think we’re weird or uninteresting, or we don’t feel the need to engage in a conversation that won’t achieve something for ourselves. Why bother, right?

It’s a mentality that permeates our culture, and I think it’s disconnected us to the point that the only way we feel comfortable saying hello to people is if we know them already. Instead, we fill our need for human connection in other ways.

That same person who won’t look me in the eye in an elevator for some light conversation may very well go home and tweet with people they have never even seen in person. Maybe after disregarding my greeting, the person in the elevator will check their phone and read up on all the latest from Kim Kardashian, a person they’ve likely never even seen face to face.

I think we all yearn for real connections and the simple satisfaction of someone saying hello purely out of kindness and good will. To be noticed…to be acknowledged…to be seen.

My challenge to all of us is let’s allow our collective guards down just a little bit to our fellow people and see what comes of it – I’m willing to bet the results will be surprisingly positive.


  1. Oh, Roshan, you’re singing to the choir of this exuberant extrovert. I talk to everyone! I hear you on the proverbial pepper spray but I insist on a world of cheery good mornings to all and pleasant banter when waiting in line.

  2. p.s. Neel, I would have addressed that last comment to you, but I don’t know you. ~kidding~ 🙂

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