Hallway Eye Contact Syndrome (HECS)

Picture this. You’re walking down a hallway. Suddenly you notice someone else, someone you know, off in the distance…walking toward you.

I know, right? Disaster.

When someone is far away it’s no problem, because the two of you can easily pretend like you don’t see each other. When someone is close it’s no problem, because you can throw out some little greeting and be on your way. But anyone walking toward you will inevitably reach the intermediate zone between “far away” and “close,” a zone of supreme awkwardness, where you are near enough that some form of interaction seems required, yet far enough away that you can’t start talking yet.

This is the realm of Hallway Eye Contact Syndrome, or HECS.

You’re playing a dangerous game, and you know it. If you make eye contact, you’ll have to offer some kind of weird long-distance greeting, like a wave or a shout or a nod. Neither of you wants that, of course. So you both start looking around, searching for other things that could plausibly interest you (“oh my, our floors have carpet, when did they put that in?”) while trying to avoid walking into a wall. But you know, just as they do, this game can’t last forever. Sooner or later, one of you will have to break, decide that you’ve entered the Communication Zone, and offer a greeting. By the time it finally happens, the awkwardness has grown so intense that you don’t even care anymore – you just want it to be over.

HECS isn’t so bad if you don’t know the person at all, because then you can pretty much pretend they don’t exist without seeming rude. It’s also not so bad if it’s a close friend, because then you can do something goofy in the intermediate zone, like an exaggerated wave, and it works out okay. As before, the danger lies in the middle – with people who aren’t friends, but are good enough acquaintances that you have to greet them.

And of course, the fewer people in the hallway, the worse it is. If it’s just you and them? Forget it. You might as well turn down a side hall now.

For some people, HECS is only an occasional hazard, a few seconds of awkwardness per month. But those of us working in office buildings aren’t so lucky. All the conditions are ripe: long uncrowded hallways, lots of people that are acquaintances but not really friends, and a constant stream of reasons to be up walking around.

I’m telling you, it’s brutal.

Do you suffer from HECS? What strategies have you found for dealing with it? Share your tactics with fellow patients!

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10 responses to “Hallway Eye Contact Syndrome (HECS)

  1. Funny! At work, I’m always making eye contact with customers and it might get a bit awkward, cause they’re just trying to enjoy their food and they’ll probably feel weird at someone staring at them as they eat and sometimes I pass by them as I clean, so that’s sort of awkward too cause I don’t know these people.

    The best remedy: a bright smile.

    I just smile at them, then look away. If I know them, then I smile brightly until we get close enough for a wave or “hi, how are you?” then go on my way.

  2. I think it’s even worse when it happens a couple of times a day with the same person as demonstrated below:

    http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1989-09-15/

  3. It happened to me this morning! totally creepy stuff, it’s almost like a prophecy, you writing this made it happen to me.

  4. Always be on the phone when you’re in a hallway. That way you can make eye contact and not be expected to do anything else.

    Alternately, I used to just go the “goofy” route. Whether I knew someone well or not, I’d pull out a few dance moves down the hallway or put on a delighted expression and slow-motion run towards them, arms extended. Hey, it’s the workplace, if you’re not having fun, why are you there? (The best part is that my goofyness would often encourage other straight-laced people to be goofy in return.)

  5. my normal greeting is just a very largely exaggerated pumping of my hand that goes so fast it makes me dizzy, and lasts for a long time. I greet all my friends and acqaintences this way, but then again I’m also in high school so different social rules probably apply. Therefore, I’ll just sit around over here being of no use whatsoever while hysterically giggling to myself.

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