It happens to us all; on the tube, at a new client's offices, in a coffee shop, at an art gallery, even in a foreign city; it can be anywhere. If you've been working a while then odds are you've worked with quite a few people over the years and you're bound to bump into some of them now and then. It doesn't just have to be someone from your professional life, it could be someone you went to school with, the hairdresser that you used to cut your hair, a bar tender you got to know very well, the list goes on...
What's always fascinated me is how people choose to handle that situation when it arises. I very much vary my approach depending on my mood, the situation and whatever objectives I have at that time. However in general, I must declare I'm a 'stride over there and just say hello' kind of person.
It's entirely up to each individual to choose what they want to do but your response can speak wonders about your level of effectiveness and emotional intelligence. I was thinking about this recently after a few run-ins with former acquaintances and a couple of work reunions I attended (where the whole point was to reconnect with people but that didn't seem to be how some others saw it). I basically encountered 3 types of behaviours:
1) The "warm greeters"; these are the folk that have no problems saying hello, engage you in conversation and it's like you never had a break knowing each other. Sure you may have to make small talk to get going but you leave the conversation with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
2) The "civil chatters"; these are the folk that will be polite and come say hello or are open to saying hello. Sure the conversation won't necessarily be a long one but it's nice to reconnect and there's always the opportunity to pick up with them at a later point.
3) The "avoiders"; these are the folk that are desperate not to speak with you. They will look down, even hide from you and if you do somehow start chatting to them they'll close the conversation down pretty quickly and make their excuses. These folk do not leave you with a nice feeling and actually can make you feel bad about yourself.
Now, I get it, there's always reasons that you might not want to talk to someone from your past (in my experience though, whatever the history, it's always better to swallow your pride and it would have to take something major to avoid a former acquaintance) but think how you would like to feel if the situation was reversed.
Certainly the more you can be a "warm greeter", the more EQ and effectiveness you can develop. In fact bumping into an old acquaintance can be a great way to develop your EQ in a safe environment. What you actually talk about is up to you; even if it's just the weather and how bad the commute is then that's better than nothing. Heck, you can even use the infamous "let's catch up soon" and not-mean-it line if you like (I could write a whole blog on that one) but just going up to a former acquaintance is a great start.
There are numerous other situations that also help develop and show your EQ, such as: Do you sign a birthday card for someone you don't know as it goes round the office? Do you close the door behind you when you walk into a coffee shop or restaurant on a cold day? Do you invite someone to join you for lunch?
Each on their own may seem small but each really demonstrates your level of EQ and can actually improve your effectiveness. If you don't believe me, give them a go.
We at Shiageto are always encouraging everyone we work with and interact with to raise their heads up a little, take a little breath and go give your EQ a little boost through these small things each day. You'll be surprised at the results :)