How to Respond to a Greeting

Woman with wine bottle congratulating friend for new house
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Do you ever find yourself flustered when you see someone you don't expect? Have you experienced those embarrassing and awkward moments when you can't think of something to say? Prepare yourself for the future so you won't be caught off guard. Being prepared can make the difference between feeling self-conscious and being confident as you express your delight in seeing someone you know. 

When you're out and about, there is a good chance you'll encounter someone you know or have met in the past. Although you might be tempted to pretend not to see or hear the other person if you are in a hurry, it's a good idea to be friendly and at least offer a greeting in return. Not doing so can label you a snob, and that will stay with you for a long time.

What to Do

When you see someone you know, it's good form to start with a warm smile. If the situation allows, and you don't have your hands full of packages, extend your hand and offer a firm handshake, unless you have a cold. In that case, you can do a fist bump or explain that you might be contagious.

If this person is an old friend, you might want to offer a hug, say a few extra words, and decide on a time to meet later. It is always nice to reconnect with an old friend. If you don't know the person well or perhaps only met them once, you might not remember their name. It is acceptable to apologize and ask for their name again. Repeat their name and then state your name to help them remember yours. As soon as you get a chance, jot their name down and employ whatever technique you use to remember people's names.

What to Say

It is a good idea to have some ready responses for the times when you see familiar faces. If you have time, you can stop and chat. Otherwise, let the other person know you don't have time to talk, but it is nice to see them. If you'd like to chat later, offer your phone number and encourage the person to call you later.

Here are some easy ways to respond to a greeting:

  • "It's so nice to see you again. Give your family my regards."
  • "Hi! I haven't seen you in a while. You look fabulous!"
  • "Good morning! I wish I had more time to chat, but I have an appointment in fifteen minutes."
  • "It's great seeing you. I hope you're doing well."
  • "I'm doing well! Thanks for asking. And how about you?"
  • "Wow! It's been ages since we saw each other. Let's get together soon when we both have more time to talk."

What Not to Say

One thing you don't want to do is say something negative or anything that can be misconstrued. Keep your initial greeting brief to prevent having to take time to explain something. Don't ask any rude questions that might make the other person uncomfortable.

Here are some things not to say in a brief greeting:

  • "Have you lost weight?"
  • "Did you and that guy you were engaged to ever get married?"
  • "Whatever happened to [fill in the blank]?"

Resist the Urge

You might be tempted to say something that will require a long explanation or answer, but you're better off saving that for later. Even if you are in a bad mood, unless your eyes are red and your nose is running, there is no need to share that information during a brief greeting.

Here are risky things to say in during the initial greeting:

  • "Things haven't been so good for me lately."
  • "Did you hear about [fill in the blank]?"
  • "It's a lousy day."

Things to Remember

When you see someone on the street or at the mall, you don't have to feel obligated to stop and chat for a long time. Chances are, you're on the way somewhere, and so is the other person. If you'd like to spend more time with them, ask if you can call later to set up a coffee or lunch get-together later. If you have a card, give it to them. Otherwise, you can jot down your name and number for them to call later.