Please note that this is NOT a post about a TV show. I do have to briefly reference Seinfeld, but it is completely justified. Seinfeld went out at its peak, but left a few topics unexplored. They covered a lot of awkwardness in the workplace scenarios (one especially memorable episode about George and a cleaning woman “Is that wrong? Was I not supposed to do that?”), but they didn’t address everything.
So for well over twenty years now…I come to work in the morning and the first time I see someone it’s “hey, good morning!” 30 minutes later I pass the same person in the hallway and it’s “hey” An hour later I see the person and just give them a big smile and nod. Not 15 minutes later and geez there they are in the hallway again. We’re down to a half smile and a nod (if you want to mix it up a little you can replace the nod with just raising your eyebrows). For the rest of the day it’s either don’t make eye contact, or stick with the half smile and eliminate the nod. Sometimes it disintegrates into just a short grunt.
Of course there are variables, for example, what if I had just had a funny little email exchange with the person? Even if I’d already seen the person 6 times that day, I revert back to full smile and greeting such as “too funny!” or “you crack me up” or even the simple index finger point, tongue click and a “you maniac you!” On the other hand, what if we’ve had a less than pleasant call or email exchange? I might skip right to the nod, no smile or, say, a frown with an eyebrow raise. Or if someone just got back to the office after attending the funeral for their great aunt’s second husband’s cousin, I might go with a little frown, a head tilt and a “hang in there”
You know what kills me though? I cannot do that raise one eyebrow thing that is so rich with meaning. If I had that in my arsenal the combinations would be endless, but I gotta work with what I’ve got.
That’s nothing compared to a few extraordinarily awkward situations. A number of years ago at one of my many long lost firms one of my staff walked into my office, closed the door and stated she was a lesbian. I said the only thing I could say, “Well good for you. Anything else?” “Yes, I want you to know I have a girlfriend and we’re in love”. “Well, good for you. Anything else?” Not an hour later another member of my staff walked in and declared that he was gay. WTF? I applaud their courage for coming out to their family and friends, but really, I don’t need all that information. That was a bizarre day. I decided to go back to all my staff and bravely announce that I am heterosexual, but some HR type talked me out of it. No one ever lets me have any fun.
At another long lost firm there was a gentleman from the mailroom who felt he really needed a break from time to time. For some reason, he got the notion that a good place to take a break was in my office, and would just plop right down, sometimes flipping through a magazine. Sometimes he remembered to actually give me my mail before he got comfortable, but not always. I decided that perhaps if I ignored the situation it would go away, so I kept on working. No such luck. He said “You sure are a hard worker” and I said “hmmm”. Him, “I mean, every time I see you you’re just working away” me, “hmmm”. Him, “I like to take a good break now and then” me, “hmmm” Him, “You are always working, aren’t you?” me, “hmmm” Rinse and repeat, daily.
At one of my former firms for some reason (I honestly don’t know why) the receptionist did not like me at all. I told my boss she was a, well, umm, “witch” and he scoffed. He called the front desk from his office and got “Hi there! What can I do for you!” I told him he needed to call from my office where she would see my name pop up as the caller. He scoffed a little more for dramatic effect but followed me back to my office. Go figure, from my office there was a completely different response. A totally annoyed “what do YOU want?” followed by a heavy sigh. He would later refer to this as the moment he realized he lived in an ivory tower. Well duuuh.
Next time I see you, I promise a full smile and warm greeting. After that, you’re on your own.