As many of you probably know, I really enjoy meeting strangers. and I have found that the most common "stranger" I come across is the average store teller. You know, the person who is checking you out at the grocery store, the gas station, McDonalds, the post office, the coffee shop... etc etc.
I have found that the easiest way to take the conversation from your average business transaction to an actual relational interaction is as easy as one magical little question:
"So how's your day going?"
This is a miraculous question. It has yet to fail me in becoming more friendly with a person. Immediately, walls come down. This question makes the person who is being asked feel genuinely cared for. (and only ask it if you, in fact, genuinely care) Tonight, for example, I was at Meijer and the lady checking me out ran through her usual inquiries about whether or not I have coupons or bottle slips and as I was paying (which is the best time to ask the question, by the way. It's the only point that you're really in control of the situation. So I usually ask as I'm swiping my card or getting out cash) I threw out a variation of the magical question: "So, how's your night going?" and then she told me about how boring it had been and how she was surprised by how slow it was and then we talked about the weather and the roads and she told me to drive safe and I said the same back to her. The magic question was a success yet again!
I'm serious, friends. It's the easiest way to let someone know that you actually care about them as a human being and not just as the person who is going to give you what you want (food, money back, stamps, etc etc). I particularly love asking when I can tell that the person has had a bad day, or is having a bad moment. Like when the line at Subway is 20 people long. I like to ask then, because of course life is a little crazy at that moment, you know? and to acknowledge the craziness and ask how they're doing in the middle of it injects a little humanity into moments of mayhem.
As I was sharing the magic phrase with Josh, he brought up a great question. Why is it better than "How are you?"? In my opinion, it is because "how are you" has become another form of "hello". It's a very rare moment when someone asks "How are you?" out of genuine curiosity of the state of your heart. Taking the time in the middle of a transaction or formal conversation to say "So, how's your day going?" breaks whatever script the person you are communicating with is used to.
Please, try it! You will make someone else feel cared about and important and you yourself will feel like a million bucks for making them feel that way. (and if you DO try it, please tell me about it!)