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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hall Pass

Given my behavior on Memorial Day, it is not much of a confession for me to admit that I often fail in social situations.  I can be terribly awkward, terribly shy, and am most probably terribly dressed

There is one scenario that has really been nagging at me, now that I've rejoined the work force.  It's one that I think has plagued me since I became aware of myself in relation to other people.  I would peg that moment to be sometime in elementary school.  Others might peg it for me to have been more like high school.  Either way, it's been an issue for a while.

Here it is: What is the proper etiquette for approaching and then passing someone in a hallway?

I'm guessing most of you have some idea what I'm talking about and why it can be problematic.  To take an example, you're headed back from the bathroom and your colleague is headed towards the copy machine.  You have about twenty feet of ground to cover, all of it in the direction of the guy who needs to make a copy and who's walking towards you.  These are the variables that I identify in such a situation:
  • At what point in those twenty feet do you make eye contact?
  • Once made, how long do you hold eye contact?
  • What's the appropriate physical cue that you recognize the person coming at you?  A head nod?  A smile?  A wave?  A high five?
  • Is it polite to try to make some lightning-speed small talk? 
Assuming I make it reasonably through the first three hurdles, it's the last one that truly tests me.  I am the worst at small talk, mostly because I think it's so, well, small.  I'm not getting much out of the tenth time I've commented on today's weather or my "case of the Mondays," so surely my listener is equally unenthusiastic about hearing that drivel.  But if we're eye-contacting and  nodding and walking in silence, is that just all the more awkward?  Should I try to make some joke about not getting stuck in the copier, or offer a recommendation to avoid the free donuts left out on the counter nearby?

The one solace I can take is that there seem to be a good bunch of us who have yet to master hall-passing.  Indeed, I've noticed that there are a wide variety of Hall Passers, and none of them really scream out for imitation.  My current tally includes:

  • The Avoider.  This is the person who keeps their eyes down and pretends you don't exist generally, much less take up space nearby specifically.  These are probably the same people who have a big presence in the on-line chess club circuit and own multiple cats.
  • The Heavy Breather.  This is the person who used to be an Avoider.  Then they gained a little extra weight.  Now they're so busy breathing heavily as they walk to retrieve a fax that they do look up, but only to be sure you're paying attention to the panting and look light enough on your feet to spring to the nearest phone to call an ambulance in the event the fax machine has been moved 5 feet further down the hall.
  • The Faker.  This person would like to have the guts to fully commit to being an Avoider, but politeness or nervousness deprives them of that comfort.  Instead, just as you're about to pass, the Faker looks up, feigns surprise at your proximity, and gives you an "Oh, hey!"  Then they duck into a corner, scan the horizon, and proceed to their final destination.  But only after they recall the passage from the Hunger Games where Katniss summons the courage to go to the provision pile to retrieve a bow and arrow or something.
  • The Jocker.  This is a guy who used to be an athlete, a member of a fraternity, and a driver of a Camaro.  Now he's a father with a beer gut and a Honda Pilot, but he relives the glory days by continuing to act like the ass he was 20 years ago.  Everything he does is at an exaggerated decibel.  He greets people with a whack to the back, eats with both hands, laughs in a roar, and goes everywhere with a beer koozie that his wife monogrammed in a vain attempt to make it look less desperate.  Accordingly, when passing anyone in the halls, the Jocker points at his soon-to-be-passer from far away, yells out to her using a nickname only he uses, and does the finger-point gun-firing thing as they actually pass.  Then he goes to the bathroom, returns to his desk, and tells everyone in hearing distance about what he did in the bathroom.
  • The Librarian.  This is the person who whips out any form of reading material in arms' length when making a hall pass.  It could be an iPhone, the newspaper, or the receipt that fell out of someone else's pocket during a previous hall catastrophe.  Regardless, the Librarian buries her nose deep into that literature, plants a furrow in her brow, and looks up to acknowledge her passer-by only when it seems plausible for her to have a chance to tear her attention away from the DEFCON-1 importance of her reading.
  • The IT Guy.  This is the IT guy who spends his entire day talking at his cubicle, in his meeting, or in the cafeteria.  His talking is usually a verbalization of whatever coding or problem-solving or bragging he's doing in his brain, which he always wants broadcast at the highest volume of nerd speak.  When he does a hall pass, it's an opportunity for him to share his knowledge in an upright, looking-out posture.  The passer-by, as the unwitting and unfortunate audience, must simply absorb the nerd speak and pretend some level of respect and admiration, lest the IT Guy deem you not impressed enough and take a detour to follow you until you tell him he's the smartest guy you've ever passed in a hall.  The IT Guy is the only breed of human to enjoy hall passing.
So that's my current list.  I think I currently fall somewhere on the Avoider/Faker/Librarian spectrum.  I'd like to be able to create a new category called The Normal Person and take up residency in it, but I'm just not sure how.

Do you have a new category to add to the list?  Or suggestions for how to normalize my hall-passing encounters?

Do tell.

Or, stop me the next time we pass in the hall and share them with me.


  1. The soft hello and an awkward wave is how I typically roll...and that hand that is waving is usually sweaty!

  2. Their should be an "office" episode based on this post. And because of the awkwardness of hallway interactions, all offices should make their hallways shorter.

  3. hilarious. I am a cross between the librarian and avoider. sometimes I turn into the jocker, but only when ive been drinking in the office.

  4. There might be a category for the people who are pretty excited to be up and about and AWAY from their desks, like little boys in school who love to go the pencil sharpeners just for some activity. Basically, though, you have nailed this once again and hallways forevermore will be all the more intriguing.