What do you do with your eyes while at work? I’m serious. If you work in a large office building or a large plant, and I do both, what do you do with your eyes while passing people? Do you look right at them? How soon do you look at them once you acknowledge their presence? From all the way down the hall or wait till they get closer? Are there basic rules or etiquette for this particular situation?
This has been an issue with me for a while now. It really has become a bizarre situation. There appears to be no un-akward resolution either. So the questions is: To look or not to look, what to do when passing someone you don’t know in the hall or on the street at work.
It’s easy when you’re out and about in town or at the mall. There really is no obligation. But when you work at a place there is this implied teamwork thing; this Hey we’re all in this together vibe. So there is some obligation to acknowledge people as you pass them during the work day. Or at least I thought there was.
I have evolved through some stages of acknowledgement not unlike the stages of grief or hunger. During that evolution I’ve encountered several different species of Eye Contact Avoiders, or ECAs as I like to call them. Here are the five most prevalent ECAs I have encountered during my movement about the workplace.
The most passive of the bunch, they might acknowledge you as you pass, but unlike Han Solo, they will always shoot second. Preferring to be sure there will be no snub on your part, they wait till they know you’re acknowledging them. Then and only then will they offer a quick greeting that sounds like high pressure air escaping a tire. For you aged like myself, think of Beaker from the weekly Muppet Show.
Much like the Second Shooters, Undeciders are a passive bunch. Their greeting is hit or miss. They wait and at the last second they’ll slide you a head nod or a Sup. No matter if you gave them the eye contact or not, they will sometimes look at you and sometimes not. There is no rhythm and no rhyme to their eye contact-ability.
These expend more energy finding ways not to look at you then if they simply made eye contact and said hello. An overweight swiveler is as rare as Big Foot, the Jersey Devil, or the Ohio Grass Man. They may go as far as to take a different route or circle around just to avoid having to make eye contact. So much of their time and energy is spent trying to find ways not to make eye contact that doesn’t make it look like they aren’t trying to make eye contact the poor bastards can’t keep any weight on.
Now we’re to the more aggressive and less passive of the ECAs. They scan you and decide way before hand if they will grace you with their eye contact. Once decided they will either stare right at you and nod in some fashion or they will look away until safely by. Scanners have a pretty obvious tell. The faster they walk at you the less likely there will be eye contact.
The most aggressive of the non eye contact crowd a Denier will simply refuse to believe you exist. I don’t mean they look away, although some will look at the ground through the entire encounter. No these crazy bastards will look right at you and refuse to acknowledge you’re there, even if you engage them. Their minds just won’t let them believe you’re walking by looking at them. It’s at the same time the most awkward and most hilarious situation of them all.
Well there you have it. The five known ECAs indigenous to the workplace. How you deal with them is really a personal choice. For my part it took almost a year of studying them in their natural habitat and experimenting with various methods. Not exactly on the level of Jane Goodall but there was an ape in the wild quality about the work.
I have evolved from a chameleon type method where I adapt to the ECA coming at me, to bull in the china shop method where I take all ECAs head on. I now make eye contact and greet everyone I pass on the street of the plant or in the hallways of it’s buildings. I must say going right at a Denier, making eye contact, and then greeting them is the most fun out of the group. There is a bit of an Alpha Dog empowerment to that method.
Quite honestly it’s mostly just good for a laugh. And who doesn’t need to laugh at work from time to time.