Do you know what the difference is between Hi, Hey, and Hello?

In this article, we will increase our observation skills by digging deep into the meaning behind the greeting.  What is someone saying when they use different word choice like Hi, Hey, or Hello?  Let’s begin by analyzing the words themselves.

Hi and Hello both express a greeting, and that is their only meaning.  Hey is a word that both means a greeting, and it means a interjection.  “Hey stop that” for example.  Thus, Hey is a more aggressive term than Hi or Hello.  So why would you ever use a more aggressive term to greet someone?  The answer is baked into psychology: You can treat your friends worse than strangers because you know they will forgive you and they know you don’t mean it.  As a result, Hey becomes an acceptable greeting and it is a mark of close friendship. Alternatively, if the two people are not friends and Hey is used as a greeting, it can be a mark of disrespect.  When you’re meeting someone new, you generally don’t open with animosity because that would be picking a fight. When you meet someone new, you generally want to go neutral, so you’d say Hi or Hello.  So now we’ve figured out the difference between Hi and Hello, and Hey.

What’s the difference between Hi and Hello?  First observations are that Hi is shorter than Hello, so therefore it takes less time to say Hi than it takes to say Hello.  This can be interpreted two ways. One way is if the person is lazy, they will say the shorter word Hi.  Showing laziness is a form of disrespect: I don’t care to present myself with energy because I don’t see you as a threat or worthy of my attention and energy.  Alternatively, this can be interpreted as respect: I don’t have the right to speak, so I’ll limit my time speaking and instead leave more time for you to talk.  How do you know which is which? The tone of voice. If the Hi is weak and very short (and often high pitched), then they are afraid an it is a sign of respect.  If the Hi is strong (and often low pitched) and drawn out with lazy energy, then it’s likely a sign of disrespect.

There’s more we can dig into, such as the number of beats the person spends on each syllable of the greeting, and the direction of the tone (is it Hi with a high pitch dropping down, or a low pitch curving up, or the same pitch monotone), but I’ll focus instead of on eye contact because that says more about the situation.  The angle of the person’s face in relation to yours says a lot about the greeting. The general rule is if they look down, they are submissive to you as if they are bowing to you. If they look up, they are superior to you because they are looking down their nose at you. If they look at you head on, then they are present with you in the moment. This signal, in addition to the signals above, can give you a more holistic picture of the interaction and therefore more confidence in your interpretation of the interaction. It’s more reliable to see many signals that agree with each other than to focus on just one signal alone.

To summarize briefly the pivot points

  • word choice (Hi, Hello, Hey)
  • angle of head (up, down, level)

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