Say Hi: Building a More Connected World Through Weak Ties

 

By Maggie Christ

We’re taught that some people are outgoing and socialize easily. On the other hand, there are people who are naturally shy and doomed to face the lifelong plague of awkward encounters. However, this doesn’t have to be our truth. Two years of social distancing and virtual meetings has been a catalyst for many to analyze and rethink their social habits. I, Maggie Christ, am one of those people.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve labeled myself as shy and socially awkward. The butterflies, the nervous laughter, the refusal to walk in first… but then I read an interesting article. It was about the power of making small connections. This article triggered a series of chain reactions. As a result, I’ve ripped off that self-adorned label. Now, I’m the co-host of the podcast, How to say Hi. It’s been quite the plot twist.

I’m a communication professional – but let me be clear, being a communication professional is very different from being good at interpersonal communications. 

It might sound like a contradiction and a bit of a tongue twister, but it’s true. I currently manage internal communications for a Fortune 500 company. Despite my years of studying and practicing PR and marketing, I always considered myself shy. Even more so, I would say I’m actually bad at things like networking and small talk.

So, how did I go from that mindset to producing a podcast dedicated to making connections and saying hi? Here’s how.

I am a total sucker for social science research. I’ll read anything about living better, longer and happier. When I found an article about how the lack of friends and loose social ties is as unhealthy as smoking and deadlier than a sedentary lifestyle, I was hooked. As a result, I began researching the topic nonstop. What I was reading…it made sense in theory. But, I needed to test it for myself. Maybe, just maybe, it would help me feel confident with small talk and other social encounters. Can you relate?

Let me tell ya, timing can be pretty incredible.

It also played a momentous role in getting this podcast off the ground. About the time I started my deep dive into socialconnections, my friend approached me with the idea of working together on a passion project. Katelyn Stutterheim, who can make friends with anyone she meets, wanted to share her joy of connecting. The idea was a bit vague at first, but once we broke it apart, it all came down to the simple act of saying ‘hi’. The beauty is, even though it is a super simple thing to do, the impacts can be magnificent. She felt that pairing her natural-entertainer mind with my more scientific approach would be interesting. Not to mention, more relatable (and entertaining) for everyone. Thus, the uniting of our podcast partnership.

Unlike me, Katelyn has been ‘saying hi’ since her early days. It is something she thinks about a lot. I’ve seen her in action. Working intentionally to make someone’s (anyone’s!) day a little brighter. It could be the waitress, a new friend, a toddler screaming in the back of a car… At first, I thought it was an inherent trait. Later on, and through our podcast, I learned that that’s not necessarily the case.

I love saying hi to strangers, sparking up a conversation about whatever is happening in that moment. For me, it adds a little sparkle to the day! It’s sort of a ‘why not connect?’ Why not make this mundane moment more interesting, more memorable. Plus, you never know who you will meet or what you will learn. Heck! If I hadn’t invited Maggie’s husband, and at the time a complete stranger, to play back-yard badminton with me, this all would be a ‘could-have-been’! – Katelyn Stutterhiem, Co-founder of How to Say Hi Podcast

Okay, this is tracking. But what now? What does saying ‘hi’ actually entail?

If you’re like us and are eager for greater human connection — more friends, a stronger personal or professional network — there are easy steps to take right now, and every day, to strengthen that ‘muscle’. Just like working out, eating healthy, or learning a new skill, it requires practice and patience. However, after you do it once or twice, you’ll be shocked at how natural it begins to feel.

Start small.

Simply say hi.

To everyone, all the time.

And try to mean it.

We challenged ourselves to say hi to the mailman, wave to a neighbor, wish the cashier a good day, comment on the weather to the bus driver, say thank you and make eye contact when a stranger holds the door. Even in a socially distanced world, there are times we are within earshot (or maybe wave-shot) of a person, and we can use that opportunity to make a connection. If we weren’t ‘in the mood’, we’d do it anyway, which helped us discover that these small intentional acts give such an immediate boost to our own outlook. Sure, there might be some awkwardness too, but there was always joy.

For example, I’ve recently won over a neighbor who seemed to be avoiding my eye for months, but now she says hi as she walks from her car to the door. We probably won’t ever be best friends, but I know I have a connection, a friendly face, just a few doors down. If I ever need something, it’ll be a little less uncomfortable to knock on her door to ask.

Aside from the potential to borrow sugar, there are many benefits to expanding your social network.

  1. It builds connections and familiarity with those around you. In turn, this web helps you feel more integrated with your community. You never know who you’ll meet. It could be your next boss, mentor, or best friend.
  2. It’s good practice for networking, cold-calling and other skills necessary in communication-focused jobs. I hate using the phone, but the more I chat with strangers face-to-face, the less scary it is to call new people or reach out to a colleague at work that I haven’t met yet.
  3. It opens you up to more people, ideas and opportunities. A more diverse network makes us all better people and professionals.
  4. And of course, It feels good and makes you happier! You may live longer, too.

Ready to get started?             

  1. Start small like we did. Challenge yourself to say hi to one person each day for a week. Write down or reflect on how it made you feel.
  2. Take it beyond your usual circle. Say hi to cashiers, delivery drivers, neighbors, servers, other customers in the store, the doorman, Jackie from accounting, you get the idea.
  3. Listen to our podcast: How to Say Hi for more ideas.

How to Say Hi hopes to inspire the world to recognize the joy and benefits of making small connections. Through personal tales and research, we discuss silly societal norms, offer advice for navigating social situations, and encourage listeners to look for opportunities to say, “hi!” Episodes are 15-20 minutes, released every other Wednesday, and end with 1-3 actionable challenges. A few episodes to start with are At the Office and Virtual Hangouts.

Bonus challenge (you’ll find we do these a lot in our show): connect with us! We’re all about saying hi, but we love hearing it, too. If you want to know more about our podcast journey or have ideas or questions for the show, write to us at howtosayhipod@gmail.com

Feature Photo by Tzido

Maggie Christ is Co-Founder of How to Say Hi Pod and Associate Communications and Engagement Manager for The Kroger Co.

2 thoughts on “Say Hi: Building a More Connected World Through Weak Ties

  1. I loved this article! It felt very reasonable and much less intimidating than so many other tips on how to create a connection. Here are two questions for you:
    What is the best connection story to come out of this? Have there been any negative reactions?

    1. Hi Bekah, thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      To answer your questions: my best experience so far has been connecting with a neighbor who I was SURE hated me (no reason, just jumping to conclusions about strangers!) I talk about it in our episode called “Neighbors.” I found a package of hers that’d been stolen and discarded. I returned it to her and now she says hi often as we pass on the street. It’s not much but gives me a warm, happy feeling every time. Katelyn, who’s been doing this longer, has TONS of stories about making new friends in strange places: on the plane, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and boring networking events. One time she yelled to a guy on a bike and said, “we’re biking to the pool! Join us!” and he did!

      As for the negative experiences: usually, it’s just a bit of awkwardness or someone not really understanding what I’m doing. They give me a funny look or look around like I must be talking to someone else. Sometimes, if I attempt a conversation, it’ll stall awkwardly and I’m not sure what to do with myself or how to leave. However, I still count these as wins because it’s making a connection and normalizing one-off interactions among strangers.

      I hope you try it out. Feel free to find us on social or email if you have more questions.

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