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The Workplace Survival Guide: Hallway Awkwardnes

Mark Marianelli

Passing people in the hallway is about the most commonly awkward scenario in the workplace (short of a low-flying zipper). It immediately puts all of your social awareness on the line. How familiar must you be with somebody to give them a smile? How about a hello? Small talk? To question this idea even further, what if it's the third or fourth time in the same day that you're passing this individual in the hallway? When do you transition from small talk to smiles to flat out running in the opposite direction? Here's some responses to avoid.

Raising the Brow

While some people try to pass off raising their eyebrows (without smiling, mind you) as a means of acknowledging you, it only draws attention to the fact that they don't care to waste the energy on you that it requires to raise the corners of their mouth. Don't do the eyebrow thing. It'd be more polite to just ignore the person and keep on truckin'. Quite frankly, if you blatantly ignore me when we cross paths, it's a load off of my back because I don't have to waste the effort worrying about what to say to you the next time we pass each other. What are you supposed to do with raised eyebrows anyway?? Raised eyebrows imply shock or surprise, maybe confusion. If you look surprised to see me, I can only assume that you hired someone to assassinate me the night before and they clearly failed their mission. In which case, are you about to finish the job for them? Should I worry that I'm about to be shanked? Not only am I going to not talk to you when I pass you in the hallway now, I'm most definitely going to look you directly in the eye every time I see you and proceed to continue watching you even after you pass me.

Now HR is calling me because I'm staring at people as they walk away, there's harassment allegations and before you know it, I'm out of a job because you couldn't take the time to simply grin and walk on. Put those eyebrows down!

Text Fake Out

We're all guilty of this one, which is why it's made its way into the "DO NOT" list. The general idea is that if you're looking to avoid an awkward moment in the hallway, you take your phone out and look at it as though you just received an important text or email. Now you're too distracted to make eye contact with the person passing you and for all intents and purposes, crisis averted. Right?

WRONG. This is the oldest trick in the book, meaning everybody and their mother knows EXACTLY what you're doing. You might as well just tell the smiling acquaintance approaching you that you're uncomfortable and nervous and then run away crying. Also, all anybody has to do is look down at your phone as they walk by and see that you're staring at your lock screen. If this is the course of action you intend on taking, at least make your phone background look like a text message... I should patent that. 

The Grade School Crush


This is a common one, and I can't really fault anybody for it because I do it myself more than most are comfortable with I'm sure. This is when you spend so much time looking at the person that's approaching you and pondering how to respond that they inevitably look back at you - at this moment, you immediately smile, look down and speed up your step. I call this the Grade School Crush because you look like an overly shy child with a crush. The only thing this move will accomplish is ensuring that people will think one of two things about you. 1.) That you're in love with them - and you're creepy, or 2.) That you're intimidated by them... And you're creepy.

It's just creepy. Don't do it. Unless you really DO have a crush on someone, in which case, have at it, creep.

So yeah, there's some things you shouldn't do, but what about the things you CAN do? Well, this is the only method I've found that works if you don't feel like ignoring someone and looking like a self-absorbed diva... 

Sing, Sing, Sing

Sing their name and continue walking past them as you sing it. Not as crazy as you'd think. They'll be flattered that you took the time to A.) Remember their name and B.) deem their name important enough to put it to music inside your head. In addition, they'll be confused about what just happened and won't have time to stop you to talk. You'll be long gone by the time they come to. Before long, this will just be your normal way of interacting. You'll sing their name, they'll laugh, they might even sing your name back to you. You'll have a "thing" without ever having to establish a standard working relationship.

What if I DON'T remember their name? MAKE ONE UP! Nicknames are the ultimate form of flattery, so long as that nickname isn't something like "Fatty" or "Sexy Pants". Be HR-friendly. Call out something they're wearing like "Lady in Red" or "Man in Black". Heck, sing Lady in Red or Men in Black! Song is the best weapon at your disposal because NOBODY knows they have it in their social arsenal.

But what if I can't sing?? OMG Even better! Now you absolutely have to sing! The worse a singer you are, the funnier it is. It's less intimidating, it's humbling to you and flattering to the other person. You know what? I'm going to make an amendment to the rule - If you CAN sing, then pretend to sing badly. Genius.

So now that we've established the Do's and Don't's of hallway interaction, I should clarify that these rules only really apply to acquaintances. Not people you know well. If you know someone well enough, then there shouldn't be anything awkward about running into them regardless of how narrow the space. Complete strangers on the other hand are something else entirely.

Passing a stranger in the hallway is a good way to identify who is new to the company and who is a beaten down veteran. The people who are new will likely smile, look you in the eye and say hello. They're full of hope, they're looking to make a good impression and they feel like they're part of a team. If a stranger greets you at work, they are most definitely new and it is your job to crush their dreams of camaraderie before their ambition becomes too obnoxious. Don't entertain their false dreams, ignore them. It may be rude, but it will be better in the long run, like putting a sick dog out of its misery.

A true workplace old timer will not even pretend to not see you in the hallway, they'll look right through you. No pretend text messages, no fake sneezes, just blatant disregard for your fragile social self-esteem. If you really think about it, they're doing you a favor, hallway small talk sucks.

On the topic of speech, you'll definitely want to read my next entry in the Workplace Survival Guide: "Buzzwords, Acronyms and Nonsense".

Until then,
~ M.

Keep in mind, this is all strictly satirical - If you're actually taking workplace advice from a guy that makes video games about 'Rock Paper Scissors', then you probably shouldn't be working in an environment where your actions impact an actual business. Okay? Good? Let's all laugh and make the most of our daily grind together.