We all have bits of talk that we have picked up from listening to the people around us. They are so familiar to us that we don’t have to think about them or their meaning. A lot of this phatic talk is to do with greetings and showing that you are pleased to meet people. If someone we know well fails to reply we at once ask ourselves “Have I done something to upset her or didn’t she hear me?” Which shows just how important greetings are. The tone of voice also matters.
A long time ago when I was at university our Spanish department room was very small and right at the top of a wide spiral staircase. One day, when it was time for my years’ lectures, a steady stream of us made our way up and passed another group coming down rather faster. I was saying “Hello” over and over again. When we got to the top of the stairs the girl just behind spoke to me.
“It’s easy to see who you like and who you don’t” she said. “What do you mean?” I replied. She laughed. “Every one of your “Hellos” was different. They varied from just above a whisper to a hearty laughing tone.
I learned two things. One, that I was not aware of this at all. I have always formed strong feelings for or against the people I meet but I had never realised how much I give away by the warmth or not of my greeting. The second thing I learned was that my friend was an acute observer of what was going on around her, especially people she liked. This made her one of a very small group of my friends. I also notice such minute things but I didn’t notice them in myself.
People who are sensitive to fine details are usually those who turn into writers. Without realising it they accumulate a wealth of small events with people and nature and they never forget them. When I began to work as a psychotherapist I had no difficulty at all in getting into a state of rapport with my clients. I thought that was normal in my profession. Other people who had trained with me began to ring me up after a few months to ask me how I was getting on. “Fine!” I said, They were amazed because they found it difficult to talk to complete strangers. Once again I realised that something I took for granted was quite rare. By the same token, when I first bought a computer when I was studying for my PhD, I found it very difficult indeed. My two sons and two grandsons kept telling me how easy it was much to my chagrin. I am now on my fourth computer and at last I have mastered all the basics I need for my work but I still quail when something goes wrong and I feel helpless.
I came to the conclusion that this sort of thing is part of why people do not get on together. Yet it can be overcome easily when both parties accept the simple fact that no two people are alike in everything. Like a lot of things that appear obvious, many people won’t accept them.