One of the greatest things you can do for someone is to make them feel welcome.
A map dot. That’s where I grew up. A tiny map dot in the great state of Ohio. Approximate population: 2,500. My hometown of St. Henry, OH is so small it’s technically not even a town, it’s a village. Yup. A village. The village limits span a whopping 1.6 square miles.
Introductions were rarely necessary. You generally knew everyone already. In the case a rare introduction was needed the meeting was always super informal, sharing pleasantries but rarely a handshake. The protocol wasn’t a product of disrespect. Instead it was a result of familiarity. People were always familiar somehow, there was always a connection somewhere. No one seemed to be a stranger and everyone was welcome.
Often my parents would point people out to me and explain the common connection between us – maybe we had common acquaintances or family friends, or maybe they were distant relatives. This is what I mean by saying people were always familiar somehow. It’s like the six degrees of separation theory, except usually there are far fewer degrees of separation than six in small town Ohio!
The reason I give you all this background about my small town upbringing is to explain that formal introductions were a rather foreign thing to me growing up in St. Henry, OH since most everyone was a familiar face. This familiarity always made me feel super welcome and at home.
As odd it may sound, it wasn’t until I moved to Nashville, TN in my mid-twenties (not knowing a single person here) that I intentionally began to take note of the way people introduced themselves and spoke to one another upon a first encounter. Being in a brand new city with thousands and thousands of people – all of which were new faces to me – required a shift in the way I encountered people for the first time. No one was familiar anymore. Everyone was brand new to me. I had never strived to be cognizant of introductions in the past, but this is when the power of making people feel welcome was revealed to me.
Much can be learned by observing interactions between people – particularly new introductions. I learned a lot about proper, formal introductions and business encounters simply by being thrust into the business world at a different level.
People speak loudly to one another by their non-verbal body language. Introductions are incredibly important.
I experienced quickly how included or excluded one could feel based simply on an introduction. One specific moment about five years ago has been cemented in my memory. This particular experience allowed me to feel the emotions of how it felt to be ignored, not welcomed when the opportunity arose for an introduction, but was denied.
I had attended a concert with three friends. After the show had ended, the theater emptied and the group I was with stayed to talk with some folks who were involved with the show. When the person (let’s call him Andrew) made his way over to the four of us to talk with one of my friends (let’s call her Charlotte), the two of them immediately engaged in their own conversation, no introductions, no acknowledgement of the rest of us standing there. Although the two of them were standing right there in the center of our group as they spoke, Charlotte had her back completely to the rest of us the entire time. Even after they had the chance to catch up there never was a moment where she introduced us to her friend, Andrew, and by that point it had become slightly awkward for any of us to jump in and introduce ourselves (however, I do admit that we could and should have taken that upon ourselves).
Charlotte’s body language was not inclusive to us or inviting us to join the conversation at any point in time, instead it was quite the opposite. It was exclusive, which made for an all-around uncomfortable encounter. It was awkward for Andrew to be conversing in the center of our group for so long, but for Charlotte to omit any sort of introduction for him to the three of us standing there with her. It was awkward for the three of us to stand there feeling unwelcome to join their conversation or be known.
That day I realized the importance and the power of a simple introduction. I also realized the importance of putting people at ease by introducing everyone if you are the person who is the common bond. That day I felt ignored, unimportant, and disrespected in terms of human dignity – even though it likely was not intentional. I learned the power that lies in making people feel welcome.
It was sort of surreal as I lived the moment out in my head. It was as though everything was in slow motion and God was very vividly telling me to remember the moment and exactly how it felt to be ignored in that moment. It was as though He was saying, ‘Remember this lesson. Remember this feeling. Remember always to make people feel welcome. Remember to introduce people to one another and take that burden off of them. Invite them into the conversation. Make them feel included. Don’t make them hang out on the outside. Make sure they know they are welcome and that they belong.’ The moment was etched into my mind forever.
I am certain there are moments in my life where I inadvertently fail at making people feel welcome yet today, but I genuinely do like to bring people together. My hope is for people to feel welcome in my presence and perhaps they will feel comfortable enough to enjoy a nice conversation, not just stand off to the side unsure as to whether or not they are invited to the party.
You can’t really be a part of something when you are not made to feel welcome. You can’t really force yourself into a situation and be received well unless the people there are welcoming you.
Welcome people. Always. Love people. Always.
“We shouldn’t say everyone’s invited if we’re going to act like they’re not welcome when they come. Love everybody, always.” – Bob Goff