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At my new office, I got to know a few people and among them is a woman ("Alice" for simplicity). I could call all of them acquaintances including Alice.

I usually greet Alice outside of work, with a smile or "How are you?". I usually do not greet her while I am at work. I say this because her desk is just after mine, she passes me each time she comes back in after taking a break and it kind of feels weird to smile at her each time.

Today, it so happened that I finished my work and I was looking for my supervisor, so I could inform him that I was leaving for the day. He was in a meeting, so I kept looking behind me to see if he was done. While doing this, Alice left her desk and walked in front of me to . I did not greet her, even though I caught her eye, I just turned back to my computer screen awkwardly and I kind of felt like she was expecting me to smile or acknowledge her because she turned away awkwardly too.

Question

I felt terrible after this. Most of all, I felt guilty that I didn't smile because I thought she expected it.

Should I apologize to Alice for this incident?
Or am I reading too much into this and let it go?
What is the best way to handle such a situation?

edit

Upon @Catija's suggestion , I would like to add that I usually don't greet Alice during work because it might be taken as a sign of romantic interest by other colleagues .

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    Why don't you greet her at work when you do greet her outside work? If I were Alice this would seem very confusing. – Catija Sep 27 '17 at 18:10
  • @catija I have done that a couple of times , only if she makes eye contact. Also since it's an open office , if I say hi , it attracts attention to me from my coworkers nearby . – Bharath Sep 27 '17 at 19:06
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    Is this a cultural concern? Why are you afraid to say hello to her and "attract attention"? I have male coworkers I chat with all the time about completely non-work-related topics. – Catija Sep 27 '17 at 19:10
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    That seems like information that is valuable to add to your question. We don't all come from cultures that are like that. – Catija Sep 27 '17 at 19:17
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    It's not generally polite to call an adult a "girl," especially if you are approximately equal in age. – Azor Ahai Sep 27 '17 at 20:54
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You seem to be reading way too much into it. While it's possible/probable that there was awkwardness about this situation it isn't that big of a deal and apologising for it likely will make it worse, since it would add a lot of importance to something most people would forget in five minutes.

If you feel bad, just make sure you are more consistent about acknowledging Alice in the future

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Well, of course, you see people walking by your desk when there is an open office plan. I'm working in one of those offices as well. I'm from the Netherlands, and there is actually a sort of rhythm to greeting:

  • When you arrive at work, you greet the people that are already near your own desk. People that arrive later greet you, and you acknowledge them back. This is often a simple:

    Person arriving: Good morning Everybody!
    Persons already at their desk: Good morning/ Hello/ Hi / nothing if they are busy.

  • When you leave for the day, you say goodbye to the colleagues seated near you.

    Person leaving: Well, I'm going, see you tomorrow / Goodbye, everybody.
    Persons still at their desk: See you tomorrow / Goodbye / nothing if they are busy.

    Don't shout out, just a normal tone of voice, and no long sentences, this goes for both greeting and leaving. This makes it easier for those people that are busy to ignore you. And modify your greeting according to the level of 'officialness' your office has.

  • When making eye contact, I smile if the person walking by smiles first. I nod if the person walking by nods first. I greet if the person walking by greets me. And if they do that 3 times a day, I make a witty reply to the 3rd greeting, it usually stops after that. If the other person keeps on walking, I turn my head and burrow back into my three screens.

I don't know if you arrive/leave before Alice or not, but this is generally the way things are handled in my office. No need to greet her when she's walking by during the day, but make sure you greet her at these two moments. And acknowledge her if she catches your eye and smiles at you/nods. If Alice arrives after you do/ leaves before you do, you could make it a habit of greeting her if she doesn't greet you. That should make it clear that you are more than willing to acknowledge her, without it becoming awkward (read: 20 greetings a day).

I think the specific incident you mentioned may have been awkward, but certainly not of a caliber that you need to apologize for it. Often, an apology for a very minor thing is even more awkward than the minor thing itself --> it turns a mosquito into an elephant (Dutch saying, about making a little problem something bigger than it actually is).

If you're greeting Alice upon arriving to and leaving work, you're good to go!.

  • 1
    We say en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Make_a_mountain_out_of_a_molehill in Australia (re: mosquito and elephant) – HankCa Sep 28 '17 at 7:37
  • Thank you for your detailed insight +1 . I mostly follow everything you say here generally and I guess you are right in saying that there is no need to apologize – Bharath Sep 28 '17 at 8:05
  • @Bharath In fact, apologising would most likely make things worse since you'd be attaching a lot of emotional weight to something that normally isn't worth that much. – Cronax Sep 28 '17 at 9:16

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