The volleyball player and entrepreneur Gabrielle Reece has a policy she calls “go first.” (I read about it in Tim Ferriss’ recent book Tools of Titans, a very large collection of information about the work and other habits of a few hundred highly successful people.) Reece says “If I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say hello first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. … [People] are ready, but you have to go first…”

This got my attention because often when I find myself tempted to smile or say hello to people I hesitate, because I imagine that the person I’m encountering doesn’t want to engage. This practice of Reece’s was a good reminder that I don’t actually know whether someone wants to engage or not.

Yesterday I had the chance to try it out. I was at our local community center and a woman walked in by herself. I noticed myself having the thought that she didn’t seem very friendly, as she walked past me. She sat down nearby to change out of her boots into sneakers so she could walk on the indoor track (it had snowed several inches the day before). I remembered about going first, and said “Instant winter out there, isn’t it?” She looked a bit startled that I was talking to her, but only for a split second, and then smiled. “Sure is,” she said. “But I guess we should be glad it didn’t come until the middle of December. Now if only we could be done by mid-February!”

So that was good reinforcement for me for going first. Now if I can just remember that if the next person is not so keen on interacting, it doesn’t mean I should stop trying.