6 Kinds Of Unplanned Interactions, And How They Happen

Bumping into a B-grade friend on the streets of Melbourne yesterday reminded me of the complex social dynamics of an unplanned interaction. There are several variables that effect the situation and determine the most appropriate way to handle the surprise socialization. Pictured below, I have created a response tree to help link the necessary questions and lead one to the best of six types of unplanned interactions.

The Fly-By

This is the classic ‘two people passing each other on the street’ maneuver. The fundamental aspect of the Fly-By is the 2.5 Exchange Rule; two people moving at speed past each other only have time for 2.5 statements if they are to avoid pausing their stride. Example, “Hey/How are you?/Good, you?” (don’t answer that, it’s over).

The Moon Walk

This is what happens if the Fly-By fails and one or both parties pauses to chat. The name comes from the tendency for one or both people to very slowly continue walk backwards away from each other while dragging out the conversation beyond 2.5 exchanges. It ends by necessity when one can no longer hear the other.

The Faux Rush

This is the go-to if there is any possibility of avoiding an exchange altogether. Unlike the Fly-By, one doesn’t have the luxury of having already visibly been rushing so they have to create a sudden call to action that requires them to move quickly away from the impending unplanned interaction. It’s best to employ actions that are recognized from a distance, should they spot you, for example the fake phone call, the throwing of the hands into the air in a sign of ‘sudden recall’ of a meeting. It’s generally very obvious what is happening, however, offense is rarely taken as it tends to be reciprocated.

The Stationary Surprise

This is the most intense of un-planned interactions; it has the potential to become a full-blown conversation as it has the two crucial features of being in a confined space and not having extras to pull you away. There is often a strong sense of lack of control in the midst of a Stationary Surprise. If you are spotted on the bus, sitting in a cafe or in line (and the Faux Rush is not possible or not attempted) and conversation commences (within six seconds) both parties are then at the mercy of external factors to end the interaction as ceasing conversation while still in a confined space is just not possible.

When one or both parties has unknown companions with them it changes the style of the unplanned interaction. The decision to introduce or not must be made in a mere instant. 

The Pause & Split

In the case of the Pause & Split, as the parties move at speed, the unknown extras should keep moving while the acquaintances should enter into a Moon Walk. This really comes down to the social skills of the extras, it is their responsibility to keep on moving as they offer a painless reason to keep it brief. If they linger for an introduction it transitions to the Round Table.

The Round Table

This is the full-on group dynamic of introducing all unknowns and saying a few linking statements to unite the group in shared conversation. For example, “This is Rhonda, she is also a Capricorn, and here is Steve, he too enjoys vintage cars like you, Rob, and we are all going to Yum Cha, because we like Asian culture like you, Winny.” This places a lot of pressure on the two ‘hosts’ of the conversation and involves a whole array of social skills with greeting formats, eye contact, laws of chiming etc. TC mark

image – Shutterstock


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  • summar

    some of the articles on thought catalog these days…

    • http://twitter.com/iamnzane Marissa Zane

      Bah, it seems like half the people who comment on Thought Catalog are here to report on the abysmal quality of literally every article on this site.

      I, however, QUITE enjoyed this article. Overthinking social interactions is one of my favorite activities.

      You win some, you lose some.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002448686428 Davey Kuraner

        You, apparently, never received the memo. ;)

        This article was spot-on, though.

      • summar

        well for what it’s worth, im not one of those people always commenting complaining about articles.. i also love all of ryan’s stuff which people love to hate on. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/CoachJohnHogan John Peter Hogan

    This in-depth treatise on one of life’s more insignificant concerns reminds me of the similarly-inconsequential consternations that were pondered and scrutinized to point of hilarity by the great Robert Benchley.  Nice work!

    • Christopher Glemaud

       What he said.

  • Amanda


  • akkmehcs

    I’m glad someone finally put a name to most awkward of all unplanned social interactions… the moon walk. Cheers.

  • Anonymous

    why, TC is getting better! I have read two brilliant articles in one night!

  • Guest


  • alice

    So accurate, so good!

  • cnk

    Too good!!!

    • http://twitter.com/WahWahWhitney Whitney Komor

      I’m pretty sure this is my sister, thanks for the love homie! 

  • http://www.twitter.com/mexifrida Frida

    I am an expert avoider, so this comes in handy.

  • Gogo

    Brilliantly funny because so very common, yet never before described…and of course, totally helpful

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