How to Make People Feel (Un)Welcome

The age-old expression "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" is still true to this day. So often the way we greet people, or fail to greet them, sets an irreversible path of leaving others feel completely unwelcome, even if that wasn't the intention.

My out-of-state friend Jody, a member of a group that wanted to increase its membership, suspected that the group did too little to make newcomers feel welcome. When I visited Jody and she invited me to attend a meeting with her, I proposed an experiment. I said I’d pretend to be a first-time visitor and see how welcome I felt.

When we arrived at the meeting, Jody went on ahead. No one greeted me at the door. No one approached me as I waited for the meeting to begin. Though I wandered around the room, no one seemed to notice me. As a “newcomer,” I felt like walking out even before the meeting started.

You’re Here, But Who Cares?

Messages of unwelcome are especially prevalent in businesses. Twice a year for several years, I presented a week-long workshop at a particular hotel. Yet, not once did the front desk staff acknowledge me, recognize me, or welcome me when I checked in. In fact, they usually looked glum and gloomy.

Compare this with another hotel where the front desk personnel have always greeted me with a friendly, welcoming smile. Given a choice, I’ll choose this hotel chain over any hotel in the Glum and Gloomy chain.

Often, people just don’t realize how they sound. When I called a friend who works in a large company, she answered in an aloof, standoffish voice. When I identified myself, her tone changed to her normally friendly, upbeat voice. Wouldn’t this tone be equally appropriate with people calling on company business?

Similarly, the outgoing voicemail message of a CIO I called had a distant, go-away tone. When we finally connected, he was cheerful and informative, a striking contrast. Which tone of voice is better if you want to sound welcoming: “Who cares?” or “Thanks so much for calling.”?

What about you? Have you ever experienced frontline personnel who had an indifferent demeanor while asking for obligatory information? Or support staff who answered the phone in an impatient, I-don’t-want-to-be-bothered tone of voice? Or service personnel who never even made eye contact? Have you ever been that sort of person?

How people are greeted and treated can make all the difference in how satisfied they are with your services. Communicate “You’re welcome” and they will thank you.

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