Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Awkward Pie: The long walk

When you work in an office like mine, there's plenty of opportunity for awkward situations when you venture outside the three and a half walls of you cube.

Here's one that comes up often. In the building where I work, there's a corridor running long and straight (yeah, yeah, The D. I know. "That's what she said.") between blocks of cubes (or, as I call them, cell blocks).

Anyway, several times a week I'm faced with the situation of seeing a coworker coming down the corridor toward me. Maybe I'm on my way to the break room, or heading to a meeting room or whatever. But I'm walking one way and the coworker, who is probably someone I only marginally like it I even know their name, is walking toward me.

No remember, this is a very long corridor. Maybe fifty yards or even longer. So depending on where we both entered the corridor, we could be walking toward each other for a very long time.

That's where the awkwardness enters the equation. At some point, I like to at lease acknowledge the other person (whom I probably don't like, but I'm a nice guy, see), usually with a fake-friendly wave or a head nod. If they get close enough, I'll offer a polite "Good day, sir."

The problem is, if I wave too soon I've got another 30-seconds or more of walking toward the person. It's an awkward window of time because it's too short to strike up a superficial conversation, but it's too long to just stare at each other as you approach.

Anyway, I've come up with a couple of strategies for dealing with this phenomenon.

If it's in the morning and I'm just arriving, I usually have my computer bag in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. With my hands thus occupied, I don't have to wave. Then to fill the awkward window, I usually take a drink of coffee, pretend it's too hot and blow the cup to cool it off. Do that a couple of times until my coworker either turns out of the aisle or we pass each other.

But my preferred method is to use my cell phone as a prop. I have one of those so-called smart phones, so when I see someone open the corridor I can pick it up and pretend to be busy checking my email and text messages.

Depending on how long I'll be walking toward the oncoming person, I can also fake-check my voice mail messages. Usually I throw in a frustrated head shake, like someone just left a message with a really unreasonable request that is going waste a lot of my time today, you know, just to be convincing.

Then when I get up even with the oncoming coworker I can give one of those "What're you gonna do?" shoulder shrugs.

What do you guys do in this situation?

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  1. Make and maintain eye contact; invariably the other person can not do this and drops their eyes to the floor until they're past you.

  2. Me? I change out of the "Amy Winehouse Merkin"(TM) into the "Niel O'Donnell Merkin"(TM), because, quite frankly, it smells better.


  3. we are I come from it's not customary to greet everybody you meet. totally freaked me out at first. now that I am used to it, it's the opposite-took me a long time to stop acknowledging a witch at work who ignores me every time. now were are even.

  4. I would suggest dark glasses and a cane.. but that would be tacky.

  5. As you probably know, I run into this situation as well. In fact, I wrote a post about my issues with it at an office I worked at a few years ago on the Plaza. So I've been working on my technique for a long, looong time.

    I usually smile, and then look down. As I approach the person, if they haven't turned off into their section of the cube farm, I say, "Hey!" or "Whassup?" as I pass them. This has worked well for me for a while now. Everyone feels the awkwardness of the there's no need to pretend to be on the phone, or what have you. Unless you like that sort of thing. In which case, keep up the good work! (Oh, and for people I don't even know? I just don't look at 'em at all. But I'm a bitch like that...)

  6. Seriously? You call this a topic and want people to give you advice. I am not commenting on another post until you give me a full fledged thoughtful comment without the capout of posing a question... please.

    Are you a man or a fish? greet people, specially if you don't like them... have your own F*U* Phrase, like howyuduin. Seriously, stressing this much about anything that does not require close proximity (as in a bathroom stall) borderlines paranoia.

  7. I've yet to come up with a solution to this problem, but at our office it's fondly referred to as "jousting." I hate when you finally get close enough to smile and say hi and that's when the other jerk chooses to look the other way.


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