How You Doin, Y’all?

“How you doin?”

I picked up this little phrase on my most recent trip to New York City. Not that I hadn’t heard it before, but it was on this last trip there that I decided to make it a part of my occasional vocabulary—much like “y’all” became a part of my vocabulary after living in Tennessee many years ago.

“How you doin,” isn’t really a question. It’s a greeting, a friendly acknowledgment of the other person without a commitment to actually engage with them. If, on the other hand, you put the emphasize on the word you—as often done by the character Joey Tribbiani in the television show Friends—it can be a come on. “So, how YOU doin?” When said that way, it’s definitely an invitation to engage.

You might recall that in my book, I discuss how I discovered “New York Jeff,” my alter ego—the first time I traveled to New York City. During my recent trip to NYC, I decided to bring him home with me—thankfully my alter ego fit into my backpack. It turns out he is a pretty good people connector.

I have always had a thing about engagement with people, as in mostly I didn’t want to. I am a bit of an introvert with a whole lot of emotional walls. Don’t worry. I am not going to start a therapy session here. In my quest for success, however, I have had to reevaluate how I think. It’s that whole paradigm thing. In spite of being an introvert, I am discovering in my quest for success, I need to engage with people. More importantly, connect with people.

My father was a good people connector. Lately, I have been thinking about his example and trying to emulate him. He had the ability to engage people, get them to open up, and make a connection. He had a shoe repair shop (as did his father and his grandfather) and often made connections with his customers. Actually, he did it wherever he went, always asking strangers personal questions and getting them to open up to him—and they did, and loved it. He never stopped, even as a patient in a nursing home.  I want to do a whole lot more people connecting—like he did. I am finding real joy in it.

The other day when I was out running I passed an older gentleman standing on a freeway overpass in army fatigues with an American Flag, saluting the oncoming traffic. I decided to stop and ask him why he was doing that. “So people will remember the sacrifices made to keep this country free,” he told me. We talked a little. I found out he had been in the 53rd Signal Battalion in Vietnam from 1960 to 1968. He had been a communications officer. That connection made my day—and I think it might have made his—a little recognition and appreciation for all he did in the service of our country at a time when so many were angry and ungrateful.

My biggest challenge is realizing that New York Jeff is me. I often slip back into my old ways—and would rather hide behind a bunch of written words—like in a blog post maybe? My wife has told me repeatedly I need to be more engaged with people—actual live people. It’s not a bad idea.

I decided to write down some specific steps to help make me be a better people connector. They are not definitive—read something like How to Win Friends and Influence People for that list. This is what is working for me.

Take the initiative to reach out to them

(I would rather just go about my own business, but no, I am going to make the effort to connect).

  1. Make eye contact, smile, and say hello

(I am extending an invitation to engage, have a conversation—not being creepy.)

  1. Ask a question about them and be present for their answer

(Discover the multi-dimensional person they are, there is more to them than meets the eye.)

  1. Assume a friendship

(This makes it all easier, assuming they want to be friends with me and I with them.)

That’s my formula. For those who are social extroverts, this may seem a bit remedial—but for someone who has recognized his social ineptitude, it is working. I try to use it no matter if I am at work, home, or out and about. The point is to connect with people. My dad knew how to do it. New York Jeff knows how. It’s time to merge that Jeff with this Jeff.

So . . . “How you doin, y’all?”