How to Make People Like You by Passing Them in the Hallway

17 Sep

I can’t count how many times I’ve walked along an empty street or hallway and another person is walking towards me from the opposite direction. Then there is this 30 seconds of unspoken awkwardness as we walk toward each other.  We stare at the ground, look away, fiddle with our phones; we do anything to avoid acknowledging each other and making awkward eye contact.

We’ve all experienced this.

However, let’s look at the occasion when you come across a particularly confident, cheery individual who gives you a warm smile of acknowledgement as you walk by.  You smile or wave back. Instantly, the passing is less awkward and the positive acknowledgement from a stranger offers a mini boost to your day.  It’s that split second that makes you feel accepted and special. Who doesn’t like feeling special?

Now imagine this event taking place in a workplace environment. In our current, fast-paced society, there’s just not a lot of time to judge and understand the many facets of an individual’s personality.  Fair, no; inevitable, yes. How often have you heard judgment on a person’s character based off the reason, “I just don’t get a good vibe from him/her”?  So how positive of a “vibe” does ignoring the presence of a coworker in the hallway send?

These small, subtle gestures of everyday life, ranging from an acknowledgement in a hallway to a curt, dismissive response, are called micro-messages.  Although subtle, micro-messages are powerful influences on behavior and perception because of their frequency.  According to Stephen Young, senior vice president of corporate diversity at JP Morgan Chase, “a ten-minute conversation between two people [can] send between 40 and 120 of these micro-messages” (89).

With these concepts in mind, reconsider the awkward hallway passing.  Most of us would perceive these small, awkward encounters to be harmless. However, one too many of these eventually attributes a negative attitude toward your character.

According to a marketing technique, people are more influenced by small, repeated positive gestures than large, infrequent ones. Also, it’s a simple psychological reaction to feel more positive towards an individual who offers the same positivity back.

So next time you pass someone in a hall, actively make eye contact and flash a warm smile. Acknowledge someone’s birthday.  Give a confident handshake. Remember and use people’s names.  These micro-messages will attribute comfort and positivity to your character.  And as in most of life’s situations, positivity will yield reciprocated positivity.

Positive micro-messages require the littlest of effort, yet a smile here and a wave there can leave a large impact.

Young, Stephen. “Micro-inequities: The Power of Small.” The Workforce Diversity Reader.  Winter 2003:
88-95. <;.

by Grace Tan


One Response to “How to Make People Like You by Passing Them in the Hallway”

  1. Natalia Ortega September 17, 2011 at 8:08 am #

    Sweet job, Grace! Definitely made the article intriguing because it was relatable and so true; bringing in outside sources made it even more credible and profesh!

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