Acquaintances: they're everywhere. I wish there was a universal, neutral way to acknowledge people without having to say anything. Actually, I don't really wish for that, but I know that other people do.
When you pass someone you know--even sort of know--it's almost automatic to ask "how are you?" when all you meant was "hi." Some blog readers out there might argue that this neutral acknowledgement already exists in the gesture that I'm calling the 'whassup' head nod. Not really a nod, but a lifting of the chin, kind of like you're trying to point at the acquaintance with your chin. You've seen this gesture in the works in high schools, on campus at colleges and likely on sitcoms starring Miley Cyrus or Raven Simone. It translates into the word, "whassup?" or just "sup?" if you're into the whole brevity thing.
In the professional world, I think the whassup-chin-up has evolved into a more conversative chin lift--maybe just a 'whass'--accompanied by eyebrow lift. Translated into words, it would equate to, "Hi, I see you. You're there." And this gesture is one to consider when you see acquaintances.
With the advent of Facebook and MySpace and other social networking sites that I don't participate in, it seems like we're all more and more comfortable with managing people like line items in spreadsheets, complete with a sort function. I don't social network (ok, I'm on Linked In), so I don't know all the details, other than people need to write/read blog entries to know how to appropriately manage acquaintances.
But let's just talk about in-person encounters here. I'm talking about the times when you're in a restaurant, or a store, or just walking down the street. Coming up on your left is a person you used to work with, went to high school with, knows your sister, might be a friend of your dad's or you talked to briefly over the meatball Crockpot at a party.
What do you do?
In my mind, you have three choices:
1. Ignore. You can do it on social networking sites, so why not in person? Oh, because it's rude? Well, not if you pretend that you're looking at your phone and "don't see" this person.
2. Extend arm as you pass and let out a "nice to see you!" My friends make fun of me for this one. But I advocate Option 2 as the most economical, friendly and genuine way to greet those acquaintances. It's:
Economical - saves both parties a little time.
Friendly - who doesn't love to have someone else tell them it's nice to see them?
Genuine - it is nice to see them, afterall. Now, keep walking.
Note: Don't forget that a simple wave or a 'whassup' nod can take the place of actually saying anything.
3. Stop and chat. If you have a few minutes and want to catch up (and the other person does, too), then go for it. Grab a coffee and sit down and chat it out. Catch up on how Sally is doing out there in Omaha, and reminisce about that crazy Government 1/2X class during 3rd period was hilarious. Remember that?
This blog does not endorse #1 in any way. In fact, I think it's always better just to say, "hey" or let your chin do the talking. But feel free to use and/or adapt any of the three approaches above, and let us know how it goes.