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Always say hello and goodbye

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 27 June 2011

I recently returned from visiting a Midwestern resort to speak to a group of nutritional consultants. During the three-day conference, I noticed something particularly unique about the resort employees. They all said hello to the guests.

At first I thought the resort had just done a good job in hiring happy, friendly employees. But after the 15th time an employee said hello to me in the hallway, I began to believe that greeting any guest who makes eye contact was company policy.

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Granted, some of the greetings were more heartfelt than others, but every employee whom I passed and acknowledged offered up a greeting.

This experience reminded me of a bilingual Hispanic herdsman seminar we hosted several years ago. We call them crossover seminars because we invite herdsmen and owners to be in the same room. It’s a mediated seminar with both parties discussing their feelings about the seminar topic.

During that seminar, the topic was motivating and leading employees. One of the herdsmen told the group that what his employees wanted most was a daily greeting from the dairy owner.

The mediator of the session, Dr. Gregorio Billikopf, asked the dairy producer how he felt about the herdsman’s comment and the needs of his employees. The California dairyman responded that he cared for his employees but that it was not his style to be friendly or to talk too much, especially to say good morning every day.

The herdsman described how the employees’ culture placed a high value on such a greeting. But the dairyman left the seminar adamant he didn’t need to change.

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Several weeks later, Dr. Billikopf e-mailed me to say he had heard back from the producer who had been in the spotlight at the seminar. Unconvinced, and out of near spite, he decided one morning to try greeting each of his employees to see if it would make any real difference.

His report: It had made all the difference.

After riding around the dairy in his pick-up truck and greeting employees along the way, he saw a marked improvement in morale. More of the employees were smiling and, over time, teamwork on the dairy improved.

In this issue, Dr. Billikopf suggests ways to reduce the unpredictability of confrontation. Click here to read the article.

I was recently reminded of the importance of saying goodbye too.

Prior to leaving for the resort and conference, my family, parents and siblings had a cookout with our 91-year-old grandfather. He was scheduled to have a three-hour surgery later that week to remove one of his kidneys, which doctors recently discovered was shrinking in size and harboring a cancerous tumor.

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A grain farmer and USDA employee for many years, he had only recently started receiving this magazine to read what his grandson was writing. He was most intrigued by last issue’s article on robotic milking . During the barbecue, he asked for more details about how it worked.

We all took family pictures, including an individual one with just the two of us. Goodbyes and, most importantly, hugs were exchanged at the end of the evening. I told him I’d come see him Friday at the hospital while he was recovering. Then, on Monday morning, I got on a plane and left.

His surgery lasted several hours longer than anticipated. Complications ensued, and when I returned Friday, he had passed away. Although I still miss him, I was relieved to have said a proper goodbye.

Several years ago, one of my favorite sports icons said something during a press conference I will never forget. Tony Dungy, former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, my favorite NFL team, recalled his last goodbye moment with his 18-year-old son, who subsequently committed suicide.

“I said, ‘I’ll see you later.’ I didn’t get to hug him. I knew I’d see him again pretty soon, so it didn’t really bother me very much,” Dungy said. “But I never got to hug him again. That’s one thing I’ll always think about and always remind people to do: Hug ’em every chance you get.”

Having followed Dungy’s advice, I know it made a difference in helping me grieve and heal. I hope it may help you. And I pray it made a difference for my grandpa too. PD

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