Friday, July 29, 2011

Got eye-contact? "Greet Expectations"

One of my favorite pearls of wisdom from Noël Janis-Norton's CEHP seminars is this: "If there is something your child is regularly doing that is bothering you, you probably don't have a rule for it."

So it's been bothering me for awhile that my pre-teen needs a "manners upgrade" when it comes to greeting people. The usual scenario is that as soon as he shakes anyone's hand, his body makes an abrupt turn away to the left and his eyes quickly dart away. Now I grew up in Kansas, which I think might be the friendly capital of the world. Whether I was introduced to strangers or greeted guests or was an invited guest, we were expected to smile, look people in the eye and answer politely while continuing eye-contact.

We've certainly talked about "greeting expectations" with our son before, but what we weren't doing was "Preparing for Success", which is one of the core skills of CEHP. In this case, Preparing for Success is about being proactive and talking through the expectations before any greeting situations. It's so easy to wait until things go wrong and then to react with criticism, but unfortunately it's not effective at changing behavior.

So today I had to take my son with me to meet a client. Before we left, we prepared for success and did the CEHP "talk-through" strategy, where I asked him questions about what he should do when he met my client. He said "Look him in the eye and shake hands." I praised him and said, "That's right, and how many seconds should you hold eye-contact?" He said, "Five seconds". We both agreed that might be too long, but that it was definitely more polite than half a second. We decided that three seconds was about right. I also asked him what he would do if he was asked another question about his age or interests, and he said, "look at him". I agreed, "Yeah, and you might want to look at me when you answer because it's more comfortable, but who will you need to look at?" He replied, "At your client."

Here's what happened. My son shook my client's hand, smiled and maintained eye-contact for three seconds, and he even answered questions politely while looking at him. When we got home, I descriptively praised him and said, "Even though you might have felt uncomfortable, you looked my client in the eye and were very polite. I was proud of your manners." He smiled.

Now the key thing for us to do is to keep preparing for success with"talk-throughs" about greeting expectations and rehearsing these situations. Pretty soon he'll be ready for Kansas.

Laura Runnels Fleming (see profile below)
Pasadena, CA


  1. This is a great reminder that preparing for success can help parents with children of all ages. Thanks for this helpful post.

  2. What a potent reminder about greeting manners. We spend so much time with family and extended family and friends that introductions are far between sometimes. Thank you for the perfectly timed message, Laura.