Monday, September 25, 2006

Bored At Work!

Today's blog is entitled:

The Hallway Hello
and other office work observations
There is something about working in this office that can be a bit annoying; not very annoying but annoying like a nusance. Its what I call the "hallway hello." I work in an office of some twenty-odd people. Its a very ecclectic group that is divided into various subgroups who mainly keep to eachother, but small enough that we are all supposed to know eachothers names (something I have almost accomplished.)
There are some friendly people, some very weird, some annoying, etc. But here is where it all comes together: The way the office is structured is as follows, you walk in and there is a big area (a receptionist desk and about offices.) Walking through this open space (its not a separate room) there is a long hallway, lined with offices (and one cubicle...) and at the end of the hallway are two more offices and.... most importantly....the kitchen, with its fridge for your lunch, spring water, and free coffee. Thus people make several trips to the kitchen a day and encounter the problem of the Hallway Hello.
Picture this, you are at one end of the hallway (a ten second walk, probably less) and there is a co-worker at the other end, both walking toward eachother to get to the other side. You dont really talk to this co-worker because they are weird/reclusive/annoying but you've already said hello to them today when you saw them earlier. In fact, you did a 'hello how are you'. And you just saw them two seconds ago at the fax machine and made painfully forced small talk.
SO you dont really have the option of just saying "hello" when you walk past eachother (if you dont understand why a 'hello' wont suffice, lets just say for argument's sake that aside from already said hello this morning and had small talk at the fax machine, you walked by eachother in the hallway when you were going to the kitchen and you still said 'hello'; and now its 1 min later, your going back to your desk and its the exact person walking down the hall. Its weird to just say hello everytime you see someone, even if you just saw them a second ago. Therefore you have a dilema of WHAT to say?)
I've been observing this for months and I think everyone shares this dilema. I have observed three ways that tactics that are overwhelmingly used.
1. The Passby Comment: Since saying "hello" isnt an option as you see this person 20 times a day, and because the hallway is long enough that keeping completely silent means you will have a good 10 seconds just walking toward, then past that person without even looking at them (and thats too akward for you) a common solution is the 'passby comment.' It is quite useful because this is work and 95% of the time the person walking toward you is thinking the same thing "ive got a lot of stuff to do and dont feel like stopping and talking." Thus you both understand that as you are walking, one of you will make a quick comment, the other responds/fakes laughs, and you continue on your ways. An example might be "great game last night huh?" to which you say "oh yeah ! brady's on fire" (sidenote im not refering to last night's patriots game.)
Here is the downfall to this technique: It highly depends on who the other person is. If its the really friendly guy/girl in the office who everyone loves, dont worry they will handle it! But thats not always the case and anyway, you dont always pass someone in the hall, sometimes you are tired/cranky and walking back from the kitchen with a coffee and boom, its the office wierdo who is quiet but you've tried to make friendly conversation with him in the past when you were in a better mood, so you cant pretend like you guys dont talk, plus you kind of feel bad for him. Well its friggin hard to think on your feet like that. Ill tell ya. My advice is just think of something to say anyway as most people understand the akward hallway hello and will respond in their part. Its obviously easier if you have a good relationship with that person, harder if its the wierdo temp. At my office Im only one of two people below the age of 30 so it varies a lot. Every once and a while this will fail because the person kind of ignores you or brushes you off (it doesnt count if its the quiet person). But thats benefitial too because once someone does that you dont have to feel akward about passing them in silence in the future (just say to yourself 'that person is rude anyways im not going to waste my energy')
turning to option #2...
2. The look-down/paper shuffle: This option works for more short-term walk-bys. For example although the office hallway where I work is long, there are offices that line it and thus someone can pop out and walk by you real quick. Sometimes a person will happen to have papers in his/her hand and shuffle them around as they walk by; this gives the impression that you are busy and your mind is racing about something you are doing so its not rude to rush past a co-worker. During the long-hallway walk, even if you headed toward the coffee machine its also useful because you can hold the papers up and look through them more slowly but still focused! Of course this can only work if you have papers in your hand, which aint always the case!
So if you dont like to talk and are empty handed, there is always option #3
3. The tight faced fake smile flash: This is very useful for exchanges with the average worker; ie not the always friendly one but not the office wierdo. You are walking down the hall and make brief eye contact right as you pass and give a quick smile. Its usually a small, no teeth sort of half smile, although there are those who can pull off a full smile and not look weird or peppy. The best part is, it also works with people who you have a very good, friendly relationship with. ie someone who you chat with a lot but your walking down the hall to grab something; you dont feel the need to make a fake comment but dont want to just keep walkin so you give a quick smile, you'll probably be chatting later on anyway.
Those are three techniques for dealing with the "Hallway Hello." You can, of course, just say "hello" if its someone you dont see a lot (like the main boss at my company) or a lower-level boss who you've seen a couple times that day around the copy machine but hadnt said hello to yet. These techniques are, I believe, very widespread, and perhaps global; I think because of a deep-seded feature in most humans that likes to avoid akwardness, like a painful 15 seconds of two people walking toward eachother, trying to think of something to say even though they just want to get to the other end.... The solution is the Hallway Hello. So if you dont know, now you know.
I anticipate a lot of e-mail response to this so I will just answer now what I expect to be the two most popular questions.
1. I use a mix of all three techniques, depending my mood, the time of day, and the person Im walking past. And no it dont always work
2. Yes I actually sat at work writing this instead of doing what im paid to do.

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