5 Steps to Make Running into Someone you Haven’t Seen in a while less Awkward

It happens to all of us. We run into people that we recognize, but haven’t seen in a while – we may not even remember their name -but we know who they are. It can feel like the longest 5 minutes of your life.


After this happened to me last week in the office I wrote down 5 steps to make running into someone you haven’t seen in a while less awkward just for you. (Yes, I actually ran for the closest sheet of paper and wrote them down, because that’s what happens when you’re a blogger.)

Here are two hints: it’s all about making the other person feel comfortable and asking investigative questions that can get you to answers before you need them.

Figure out the last time you talked

“Hey! I haven’t seen you in weeks/months/years/so long!” is a great way to start the conversation because then you can mentally figure out what you may have talked about at that time. You can even kill some time to try to figure out how long it’s been while you try to remember details about the person. I even do this with people I know really well because then it’s easier to decide where to pick up the stories you left off on.

Ask a general question

“How are things going with you,” “where have you been up to lately,” “anything new and exciting going on?” These are all great general questions that you don’t actually need to remember anything about the last conversation you had to ask. Also, yet again, it gives you time to pick up on hints to try to piece a bit more of the puzzle together.

Drop hints about what’s going on in your life

Next, try to make the other person’s life a little bit easier. Give them some general information about you. “I’m still working on construction audits” or “haven’t been traveling much these days” or “well my son started first grade last week” or “I’ve been playing soccer more again recently”. Each one of those sentences provides some general context about what usually goes on in your everyday life. The second the other person loosens up the conversation gets easier.

Start general, get specific

One of the keys to catching up is to start general and then get specific. This goes for telling stories as well as asking questions. By starting general you give the other person time to figure out who you are and you give yourself time to figure things out so you don’t ask a silly question. For example, if you can’t remember if your acquaintance’s child is a boy or a girl ask how the family is and wait until they say a name, he, or she. This is your time to be Inspector Gadget – minus the mini portable helicopter coming out of your head.

Confirm the person’s name

Make sure at some point before the conversation ends you confirm their name. Somehow this has gotten less for me as I’ve gotten older. We all forget names. A simple, “Howie, right?” will go along way. And if you really don’t remember, apologize profusely and ask again. No harm, no foul. Unless you dated them.

And if you’re feeling really inspired, you can even reach out to them afterwards to stay in touch.

That’s it. It’s not so bad. And it gets way easier the more you do it. (Not that I’m saying you should purposely run into people you only half know for funsies.) That said, if you’re looking for ways to stay in touch with people you already know well you can check out my guest post on Mind Body Green from this past weekend, 10 tips to REALLY stay in touch with people you care about.

What are some of your tactics for running into people you haven’t seen in a while?

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  • Oh my gosh, Chrystina, I am so. bad. at names of people I went to high school with. Whenever I go to the Target near my mom and dad’s house, I KNOW an encounter like this will happen with someone from high school. Inevitably, I will forget their name completely. Maybe I blocked out too much of those four years. 😉

    Great tips you have! I love that you want to make them feel comfortable.

    • There seriously is something about going to Target that inevitably means you’re going to run into somebody you went to high school with. Happens to me all the time. I happen to live in a really small town though. One of those places that when you stop at the pizza shop you run into the people you sat behind at church for 10 years.

  • Chelsea Finn

    I absolutely love the “unless you dated them part” haha, a good laugh in the morning is always important. I am the absolute worst at rememmbering names, so awkward encounters happen much too often. I’ll definitely remember these tips, haha

    xx Chelsea

    • I think the name forgetting thing is a common enough thing that everybody just kind of expects it. You could also totally be like “My name is Chelsea… just in case you forgot” – and I bet they would fill in their name as well.

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