Those Awkward Moments

by John Long

We all go through those awkward moments in life.  Due to my luck and lack of some social graces, I imagine I have more than most.  Like my blog a while ago of similar nature, I had another one of those “awkward moments” recently that unfortunately happened in the restroom.  In this situation, I’m just not sure what the proper etiquette is and certainly look to get any feedback!  Don’t worry – I’ll keep this PG.

I was at American Staffing Associations Law Conference recently in Washington DC.  Btw – I strongly encourage all companies to attend for a variety of reasons including:  1) content rich updates on what is happening and 2) show our support/commitment to this industry as legislation is the single biggest way our industry could be affected either positively or, more likely, negatively.

I had just arrived at the show and wanted to hit the restroom before the sessions started.  The restroom consisted of sinks, urinals and then toilets in a long, thin room.  As I walked in by the sinks, I noticed a long time acquaintance with whom I was truly happy to see.  We’ll call him Joe, to protect his identity.  Joe had just finished business at the urinal and was walking to the sinks.  I was at the sinks walking towards the urinal.  As we made eye contact, I did what I always do, and said “Joe!” and extended my hand.

Hence the awkward moment.

In a blur of what-to-do-now thoughts, we both looked at my outstretched hand trying to figure how we should proceed.

As far as I can tell, there are several approaches in this situation, but let’s back up to a moment before I extended my hand.  You see the person for the first time, happy to see them – what do you do?

1)       Pretend not to notice the person. Quickly look the other way and then, post hand-wash for both parties, you get back to normal courtesies.   The trouble with this is a) you might make eye contact first and b) the other party might think you are ignoring them

2)      Use your face and voice to convey happiness. You could consider an optional, “how are things?” as you walk by briskly, leaving no doubt of your happiness in seeing him.   This is good, but can get derailed by either of you extending a hand or it actually starting a conversation (which is a no-no in guys restroom etiquette).

3)      Elbows or fist bumps. This shows the spirit is there, but recognition of the awkwardness of a handshake.  The downside, of course, is they don’t recognize the awkwardness and think you’ve gone all hip-hop on them.

4)      Left-handed. High on the awareness situation, typically a good alternative, but you really don’t know if the person is left handed.  Or both handed for that matter.

5)      Detour to the sink. Skip your business for a bit, and pretend you just came in to wash your hands from the sticky donut you were just eating.  Your hands are busy already and it gives him time to join you at the sink.

After I committed the two of us by involuntarily extending my hand, we both went through our few, not-so-great options:

1)       Retract my offending appendage? Wait – that doesn’t sound quite right.  Retract my extended hand.  At this point, we’d both have a chuckle internally, and wait till we saw each other outside.  If he doesn’t recognize the issue, though, YIKES that is bad awkward.  And, you can’t really explain it very well without some sort of joke, right?

2)      “Better wait on that, eh?” As mentioned above, you can make a light joke out of it and move on.  This minimizes the ‘danger’ of misunderstanding, but still forces the awkwardness.

3)      Continue on with the handshake? Both of you know what just transpired, with me getting the worst of it.  Maybe it is a submissive role??  As a vendor, that could be a good thing.  Clearly, I’ll be sanitizing in moments anyway.

On a good note, we did end up talking for quite a bit throughout the event, so I think our awkward moment didn’t have lasting effect.  What would you have done?

For me – after that blur of thoughts, I ended up just completing the handshake.  And washing twice.

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