I wasn't sure how to word my question so let me explain what I mean.

I currently work in a corporate setting where greeting and acknowledging people is important. It's awkward if you don't acknowledge people or don't seem natural doing it.

Here's a specific issue I'm having which I would like advice about. I do OK in one-on-one situations in terms of making eye contact and conversing. What I am apparently terrible at (judging by the reactions I get) is acknowledging people as I walk by them. When I try to acknowledge them with a little smile and a head nod, they often seem offended for some reason as though I'm staring them down (but it seems like I'm not...). On the other hand, if I don't acknowledge them at all, I think it comes across as either rude or excessively shy.

Another possible factor is that sometimes I see the same people over and over again, so it can be a little strange to have to greet them twenty times. But how much is too much and how little is too little? If I don't greet them after the first or second time, is that rude? Should I just pretend not to notice them?

If I attempt to self-criticize, it's possible the problem is this: I am the sort of person who notices absolutely everything and it is virtually certain that I will notice the other person before they notice me. The result of this is that I'm almost always looking at them (or nervously trying not to look at them again) when they notice me. But if this is the problem, I don't really know how to deal with it. Any ideas?

This is all very awkward and confusing for me.

  • Are you sure that you are correctly interpreting their reaction to you smiling and nodding? Do you stare into their eyes while doing so? Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 17:33
  • No, I'm not sure at all. For example, just a little while ago I smiled and nodded at a guy I know and he saw me but didn't acknowledge me at all. It seems his demeanor towards me has changed, but I have no idea why other than if it's because I'm weird at greetings. Or maybe some of these people are actually the rude ones, not me. I don't know. I try not to stare, but I do look them in the eyes. But possibly it seems to them like I'm staring because (like I said in my intro) I'm often looking at them when they look at me because I usually see them first.
    – Sherlock
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 17:41
  • sometimes people dont realize they have a staring problem unless someone tells them that they do.. maybe this is the case for you.. im not sure.. Sometimes at work, when I am passing by colleagues, I just give a polite smile or eye recognition contact as I pass by them. I also have a guy colleague who doesnt even say good morning or hi to me ever since Ive started there and Ive been with my company for almost 4 years. Theyve also done this to other people not just me. It's mostly their issue. Not me.
    – gerl
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 20:18

2 Answers 2


Could be you or them.

You are in a professional environment, which means that you need to communicate with you peers a bit differently then your regular communications. Of course, I don't know much about work, so I'll answer the best I can.

Whenever you walk by someone and acknowledge them, try to let out a bit of a smile and say 'Hi.' If you have enough time, try to initiate small talk. 'How are you doing?' is a great question for this. On the topic of you seeing the same people repeatedly, don't acknowledge them all the time, depsite your corporate etiquette. Sometimes, they need a break, they are stressed, they are busy, etcetera etcetera. If you see them all the time, try to acknowledge them at least 4-5 times, maybe 5-6 depending on your preference and the person.

To interpret body language is essential, because it sends a message. If you can understand it, you might know what your peers are feeling. I suggest/recommend you read up on body language since it may help you with what I said in the previosu paragraph.

Of course, due to an earlier comment, you could also be misinterpreting their reactions a/o not initiating eye contact with them. And you do notice everything around you. In this scenario, the best thing you can do is to try to not let it get to you. It seems like you are making this a bit more important than it seems.

To answer your other questions, it's fine if you greet them one or two times. It's too much when you always try to acknowledge. It's too little when you give up. If you pretend to not notice them, then your body language may be interpreted by others and this may be a little less helpful to you.

  • Please note that "signatures" are inappropriate on Stack Exchange posts. Everything you do already has a signature - your username and icon attached at the bottom. Please don't rollback these edits to remove them.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 22:05

As you seem to have noticed, greetings between people are rather important. In many cases, they determine how people think we view them. For example, if someone smiles and perks up when they see you, it's only natural to assume they are happy to see you, right? A simple tip for how to act when greeting others, then, is to imagine how they would want you to react when seeing them.

The complicated part of this, then, is knowing how to react based on what specific relationship you have with an individual. If you are friendly with this person, looking happy and even throwing in a small wave hello near chest-level wouldn't be too excessive. In some circles it may be a little weird, but in my opinion it's better to be thought a little weird and friendly than it is to be thought normal and unfriendly.

If the relationship is strictly professional, or you are acquaintances, try a very slight brightening of your expression and a quiet verbal greeting, appropriate to the time of day..

"Morning, [name]."

"Good afternoon!"

"Happy Monday..."

..and so on.

As an aside, try avoiding the act of looking directly at peoples eyes. This can make you, them, or even both of you uncomfortable, which impacts your body language and further worsens the interaction. Instead, try looking above their hairline, while moving the focus of your eyesight once every 3 seconds or so.

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