And, it reminded me how thin the line is between known and unknown.
Her name was Anitha, but for the moments I believed her name was Veronica, we had an easy kinship, a connection. A thread born from web-conferences and phone calls.
What we didn’t have was facial recognition.
Veronica and I had a meeting arranged at my office. I’d given her the address and precise instructions on where to park. When the front desk notified me that she was here five minutes ahead of our start time, I scurried downstairs to honor her punctuality.
One, sole person was waiting in the lobby. Dressed to impress, she smiled warmly as I entered.
I questioned, “Veronica?” with a smile.
She nodded and put out her hand for a shake.
I detoured right past the handshake and gave her a hug.
“I think we’re to the hug-stage at this point.”
Her smile broadened and she followed me to the elevators.
I proceeded to escort her around our newly remodeled workspace, pointing out aspects of the design I thought her company might be interested in as part of research they are doing on employee experience. I referenced an upcoming webinar our two companies were planning, and she nodded, but it wasn’t as enthusiastically as I expected it would be.
Her demeanor was kind, yet not as commanding as I had sensed over the phone.
We sat and began to chat.
I asked her about her move to South Florida and she gave facts that validated what I knew was true for Veronica – she had moved from a colder climate, she lived alone, she boldly and bravely chose this city and made the relocation happen quickly.
But, when I kept returning to her current employer and the topics at hand for our meeting, “Veronica” kept returning to highlight her experience as a business analyst.
She wasn’t asking me many questions and I checked my watch.
It had been 15 minutes.
We had 90 minutes scheduled.
I didn’t see how we would need more than 5 more.
We’d covered the connection points and were left lacking more substance.
I glanced at Veronica’s name tag.
It said “Anitha.”
I began accessing my internal database for other times I’d been in a situation such as this…where I’d mistaken a stranger for a friend.
Yep. This was the first time.
I went back to the database.
Has anyone I’ve known done this and told me about it?!
I need to figure out how I exit this situation without making her feel awkward and making me look like the numbskull I am.
I let her finish her sentence.
“You know what? I think you’re supposed to be speaking with someone else right now. Who are you here to see?”
She smiled. Told me who she was supposed to be interviewing with, and I tried to explain my way out of the ridiculous waste of her 15 minutes that should have been applied to helping her land a job at Citrix.
I coached her to highlight her adaptiveness and flexibility when she finally sat in front of the hiring manager. Clearly, the grace with which she handled the situation exemplified qualities that would serve her well in our fast-paced, ever-changing corporate environment.
I sought out the front-desk receptionist for guidance on how to find my mis-placed guest. The “real Veronica” for whom I was now 15 minutes late.
When I greeted her in the lobby (she was in another building), she asked me if a hug would be appropriate. Let’s just say…we were off to a more ‘expected’ start.
Connection is a funny thing.
What this episode of mistaken identity proved was something I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lately.
People are strangers. Until they’re not.
We treat people with extreme distance until something gives us a reason to break the silence or the remote disconnectedness. Rather, until someone defies cultural norms and does the unexpected:
- The Uber driver who doesn’t talk for 10 minutes suddenly says with compassionate enthusiasm, “You doing ok today?”
- The people we join on the elevator, sharing a ride as it takes us to a place we deliver the best of ourselves in a shared mission of the company – you would think this would give us a reason to smile and look each other in the eye. Yet, six-by-six our common behavior is to face front, expression-less, avoiding any chance of comradery or connection.
- The interviewee, nervous in a corporate lobby. Known for her skills and her resume, suddenly gets swept up into the bountiful trust-bank and connection-halo of two colleagues several steps into their professional relationship. Instantly included, instantly connected and similar enough to the connective threads of another to experience the welcome acceptance of a friend.
Now that Anitha and I have been “friends” for those 15 minutes, it’s likely we always will be. There are quite a few details we’ll need to fill in around our scaffolding of that deeper connection from which we started on our first meeting, but we agreed that should she get that job at the company (or not), lunch is definitely in order.