It happens to everyone on a daily basis. You are walking along without a care in the world when all of the sudden you spot someone you know in the distance walking toward you. It’s interaction time, but you have places to go. The other person probably has places to go too. What do you do? It would be dangerous to start a conversation now by yelling down the hallway with all sorts of innocent bystanders between you and your target, who will undoubtedly become confused by your yelling. At this point, you move to the standard protocol.
You immediately avert your gaze, so you are now looking at the wall closest to you. You take a quick glance up to make sure that your target is looking at the opposite wall. It’s now a waiting game. You have to decide at what point you are going to direct your gaze back to your target and initiate the “hello.” You finally decide you are close enough to your target. You look at them, they look back at you. You have established eye contact – now it’s on to speaking.
Depending on the level of the relationship, you follow with one of two statements. If it’s someone you hardly know, you typically go with “Hey,” followed by a light smile. If it’s someone you know a bit better you might go with “Hey – insert name.” They typically counter with “Hey, how are you?” or “Hey, what’s up?” This is where things get tricky because rarely is something actually “Up” and rarely are you able to give a real answer as to how you are. So people typically go with the following autopilot answers of “Good” and “Not much.” The problem is that because responses are made through autopilot, you tend to get them confused because you’re not thinking. There have been countless times where I have responded “Not much” to “How are you?” which only results in cursing at myself the rest of my walk. This whole scenario is wrought with disaster.
Over the years, I have gathered a few tactics to help make the “hallway hello” a bit more comfortable. Let’s go back to the initial phase where you see the person. You really do not have to avert your gaze – you can attempt long range eye contact and maybe point at them with your finger to eliminate the eye contact confirmation that you need when you get closer.
With the greeting, instead of the conventional hello, a proven tactic is to accumulate one fact about each person you know and then simply harp on it every time you see them. For instance, let’s say the only thing you know about the person you are passing is that they had sex in a closet at a party once. You might say something like “Uh, oh, no closets around here, what are you gonna do?”
Next, if you are given the question of “How are you?” try to have a word rotation. Maybe use a different word for each day of the week. Examples of good ones are “Awesome,” “Sparkling,” “Great,” “Fine and Dandy” and “Phenomenal.” Also, more comical answers are “I’m so wasted, I can barely walk” or “Full of holiday cheer.”
Some people may think it’s best to truthfully answer the question, but that fails for two reasons. First of all, people’s emotional states are not likely to be extreme enough to be described succinctly in one word. Secondly, if you are having a bad day, to burden someone with “I’m really depressed” or “I’ve got 72 hours to live” in passing is just not a sound move.
As for the ambiguous question of, “What’s up?” it’s typically best to answer this with something that is extremely and obviously false. For example, “Oh, I’m going to go kill some vampires,” or “Hey, if I walk below four mph, my shoes will explode – gotta go.”
Hopefully these tips will help you make your hallway interactions a bit nicer. The major thing to remember about the “hallway hello” is that it’s based almost entirely on unsubstantial things, so you might as well have fun with it.
Rosen can be reached at