Tag Archives: social

The Inappropriate Greeting

A greeting that’s questionable in appropriateness for office settings. Often followed by an observing coworker’s chuckle, which adds to the inappropriateness and thickens the awkwardness.

One approach to understanding this situation is through Banduras Social Learning Theory (1977). He writes, “In the social learning theory view, man is neither driven by inner forces or buffeted helplessly by environmental interaction. Rather, psychological functioning is best understood in terms of a continuous reciprocal interaction between behavior and its controlling conditions” (p. 2).

In our case above, said greeter is likely to learn quickly that such inappropriate questions are not the stuff of a workplace if the coworker and colleagues reinforce the inappropriateness of the comment by (a) not dignifying a response; (b) expressing surprised and/or shocked nonverbal cues and (c) not inviting the greeter to lunch, coffee or for trust-falls any time soon.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Retrieved from here



The Touch Greeting

The greeter enters the physical “personal” space of another and, before saying anything, lightly places their hand on the other’s back… akin to how the ghost of one’s dead grandmother would attempt to get one’s attention. This is, as you can imagine, very spooky.

The greeted doesn’t, at first, know who’s behind them. And then, when they do, there’s an awkward jolt.

Proxemics is the study of personal space, and I bet proxemics experts have a field day with their studies of modern office behavior. How frequently have you felt the weirdness of a personal space violation – or wondered whether your co-worker will appreciate, or call HR because of, a hug?

Significant credit goes to one Edward T. Hall (and possibly a generation of unrecognized graduate students!) for developing the field of proxemics. Hall classified four proximal distances: intimate, personal, social and public (1966, p. 114). The discomfort marked by the touch greeting is such that an acquaintance (normally kept at bay, the social proximity a few feet away) breaks into the personal proximity (about 1.5 feet away). This is understood as a transgression by those in some situations, e.g., some American office environments.

An additional (interesting) tidbit from Halls’ work is thus:

“Likewise, husbands returning from work often find themselves sitting and relaxing… for at this distance a couple can engage each other briefly and disengage at will. Some men discover that their wives have arranged the furniture back-to-back… [a] seating arrangement is an appropriate solution to minimum space because it is possible for two people to stay uninvolved if that is their desire” (Hall, 1966, p. 123).

I guess that’s what we do with office cubes, eh?

Hall, E. T. (1963). A system for the notation of proxemic behavior. American anthropologist, 65(5), 1003-1026.

Hall, E. T. (1966). The hidden dimension.

The Non-Greeting

The non-greeting is observed as essentially rude. It occurs when the greeter completely ignores human compassion or dignity and immediately dives headlong into a request, opinion or exclamation of how busy they are. Even worse when the greeter is requesting something of the greeted such as work, food, favors or affirmation.

I was excited to read “Greet with the same or render a better greeting: Some translational discourse of Persian-Gulf-Arabic greetings” by one Lafi M Alharbi. It seems that the greeting one chooses to open a conversation with, and the subsequent respond by a greeter, can make a big difference to outcomes.

A few choice quotes: “… ‘greetings not only establish an atmosphere of sociability, they also communicate ideas’ (ibid:334)”. My favorite is that “Failure to fulfill one’s obligatory role during greeting exchange may consequently result in a social disappointment, which may vary from dismay to a more serious breach of social relations and perhaps cause to be in a physical danger as in Tuareg greetings in the Sahara desert (Youssouf et al 1976)” (p. 116). About that Tuareg handshake? The cited 1976 source is lovely. Apparently, the Tuareg traveller always runs the risk, in a greeting, that ” …there is always the danger than an unwary traveler can be suddenly pulled from his camel.”

Yeah, we don’t have to deal with that in the office culture. While non-greeting is not particularly deadly, it is certainly considered rude and-in this layperson’s opinion-may result in serious social disappointment.

Alharbi, L. M., & Al-Ajmi, H. (2008). Greet with the same or render a better greeting: Some translational discourse of Persian-Gulf-Arabic greetings. Iranian Journal of Language Studies (IJLS), 2(1), 115-146. Chicago. Retrieved from here

Youssouf, I. A., Grimshaw, A. D., & Bird, C. S. (1976). greetings in the desert. American Ethnologist, 3(4), 797-824. Retrieved from here

The Run-On

A greeting in which the greeter, or the greeted, speak continuously until interrupted by either (a) the other party or (b) external events.

The run-on bears strong similarity to the overly detailed, except that it may be less so — simply is a run-on dialogue that doesn’t end quickly, because the speaker continues to speak long after the greetings probably should have ended, which would have originally resulted in an appropriate greeting, but isn’t appropriate any longer because it hadn’t ended. So there.

The funny thing about run-on sentences and paragraphs is that they differ by culture, for example, native Spanish speakers tend to produce run-on sentences in their English writing due to the native Spanish speaking and writing convention of simply writing long sentences, which makes (a) awareness and (b) proofreading really important cuando estas ecribiendo in otras lenguas. Sabes?

Simpson, J. M. (2000). Topical structure analysis of academic paragraphs in English and Spanish. Journal of Second Language Writing, 9(3), 293-309. Retrieved from aqui

The Lurker Greeting

After offering a greeting and receiving a short response, this greeter lurks by, usually seeing the greeting as an invitation to open a conversation.

Lurk! What a strange word. According to etymonline, “lurk” is “probably Scandanavian” in origin (related to “lurken”, which sounds like a condiment made from salted fish, as in, ‘would you like some lurken on that zucchini?’). Lurking also is used to describe those who consume, but do not contribute to, social online communities. The interesting thing is that, in the lurker greeting, the lurker possesses an anticipation of speaking with the greeted; who might (as this image predicts) be otherwise occupied.

According to Poli (2010), future studies’ (the study of what we think about what will be) theories, generalized, posit that “… (1) the future is at least partly governed by the past; and (2) the future can be better confronted by opening our minds and learning to consider different viewpoints… “. That makes sense. Very new-age.

This is applicable to the Lurker Greeting because, the anticipating lurker might best reflect on the past (that they’ve been waiting to speak with the greetee for some time; and that the greeting subject might be busy) whilst considering just how long to lurk in wait. And, should the lurker confer with their imagination, they may just learn a different viewpoint: that the intended greetee might need to go elsewhere after wrapping up their dialogue. Like, the bathroom. Or, for a coffee. Or, really, anywhere but to speak with a person who has been peeking into the office or over the cube wall for the past few minutes.

Poli, R. (2010),”The many aspects of anticipation”, foresight, Vol. 12 Iss: 3 pp. 7 – 17