How to be Welcoming

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What does your personal front doormat say?



When I was a young girl growing up in Tennessee, my sister and I were intrigued by the old man who lived on the corner. Judging from the deteriorating condition of his house – the lawn was overgrown with weeds choking out the grass, the steep steps to his porch were cracked and misshapen, and a light fixture above the front door was covered in cobwebs – visitors were not welcome. When we occasionally got a glimpse of him going to and from, in his jalopy of a car, our curiosity was heightened.

Who was he, and did he have any friends? We conjured up all kinds of stories about him and his perfect Halloween haunt of a house.

And so on that October 31st, dressed in our respective witch and goblin costumes, we decided to brave it and trick or treat at our spooky neighbor’s. Standing on the sidewalk staring up at his dark two-story Victorian manse, illuminated in shadows by a lone street lamp, we switched on flashlights for the journey to knock on his door. I could feel my heart pounding as we made the precipitous climb.

When we got to the rickety porch, my sister abruptly turned and bolted back down the stairs. “Wait!” I hissed. “We came all this way. We have to ring the bell.” And then I saw it…a welcome mat peeked out from the blowing leaves above the wooden porch slats. Only its message wasn’t welcoming at all.

It read: “Get away from here!”

Following the lead of my sister, I took a leap off the porch, gasping and running to catch up with her. The welcome mat told us all we needed to know: our neighbor was both unfriendly and sinister.


Through our expressions, our actions, and our words, each of us “gives off” a welcoming, or non-welcoming vibe. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the degree to which we are interested in connecting with others shows.

I think back to one of the toughest bosses I ever had. It wasn’t that he was any more demanding than other people for whom I had worked. Instead, it was his attitude that made him difficult. Every action – or inaction — conveyed he wasn’t going to be accessible to me. Even when I had an appointment to see him, I would enter his office and he wouldn’t look up. He never smiled a greeting, or motioned to a chair for me to sit. His expression and his actions said I was an intrusion.

In contrast, one of my favorite work colleagues always began a meeting by asking: “So, what can I do for you today?” In her presence, I felt welcomed. And I knew I would be heard.

We each have a virtual “welcome mat” that speaks to those we interact with. By our facial expressions and our actions, we convey a message that says either: “Welcome, I am glad you are here” OR “I really don’t have time for you. Let’s get this over with.”


In addition to unwelcoming body language that suggests we aren’t interested in a genuine connection, there are also spoken words that distance others from us. When you hear these five phrases, chances are you may feel both unwelcome and dismissed.

  • Hurry up. I have another meeting. (Translated, it could mean: What you are here to say is not worth my time.)
  • I don’t need your help. (Translated, it could mean: You wouldn’t be good at this anyway.)
  • That’s not how we do it. (Translated, it could mean: You aren’t an insider and I don’t intend to share our process.)
  • You don’t know what you are talking about. (Translated, it could mean: Without consideration, I summarily dismiss your point of view.)
  • I will extend you a one-time courtesy. (Translated, it could mean: Your grievance is not valid or worth my consideration. I am appeasing you, so that you will go away.)


To be a genuine connector means that you embrace being gracious. You are friendly, in both facial expression and body language. You put the other person at ease by the tone of your voice and the words you say. And you treat your interactions with curiosity and optimism.

Think about your welcome mat message.  My personal favorite would be a toss-up between “Oh, hello…” and “Yay! You made it!”. Share what yours says at


  • Ann Louden

    A seasoned executive in the nonprofit world, Ann Louden is the founder and CEO of Ann Louden Strategy and Consulting. Recognized for her expertise in fund raising, high profile special events, and campaign planning, Ann provides counsel to chief executives, staff, and volunteer leadership. Ann’s primary interest areas are education, health care for women and children, the arts, and adoption. As a cancer survivor, she led and was the twelve-year spokesperson for a breast cancer advocacy initiative that engaged thousands of survivors, volunteers and medical providers. With a mantra of bringing big ideas to life, Ann focuses on identifying a compelling vision and creating a goals-oriented plan for execution. An in-demand national speaker for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, Ann is the recipient of the Steuben Excellence in Teaching Award and has been named as a CASE Laureate. She is the author of the upcoming book: From Social Courage to Connection: Lessons from Leaders Who Change and Save Lives. You can find her at

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