Getting caught off guard can do strange things to people.
Like blurt out, “Wattup, dude?!” when you run into your CEO in the kitchen.
So it helps to have a general idea of how you might handle an unexpected encounter with the dudes (of either sex) on your company’s leadership team.
According to Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an etiquette and civility expert and the author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom,” bumping into your CEO is a chance to make a positive impression and to show that you’re able to handle yourself in a professional way.
“It’s an opportunity to show yourself off,” Randall said.
It doesn’t take anything fancy.
If you work at a relatively small company and you’re well acquainted with your CEO, Randall suggested saying something like, “I didn’t know you were a coffee drinker, too,” or bringing up an upcoming event: “Do you have plans for Presidents’ week?”
The situation is slightly more complicated if you don’t know your CEO very well. You’ll want to read their body language and determine whether they’re in a huge rush or whether they’re open to conversation.
If they do seem open, you can introduce yourself. Extend your hand and say, “Hi, I’m [your first and last name]. I work in [your department].”
At that point, your CEO might start a conversation — “I used to work in human resources, too!” — so be prepared to keep talking.
Or, they might shake your hand and go back to stirring their coffee.
In the second scenario, “take that hint,” Randall said. Say, “Have a good day,” and leave them alone.
If you really don’t know your CEO — as in, you work at a huge company and you wouldn’t even recognise them — you’ve got another option. Say you walk away from the coffee maker, only to realise that the person now preparing their beverage is in fact the leader of your company.
Again, Randall said, it’s about picking up on body language cues. If they seem receptive or they’re lingering in the kitchen, you can go back and say, “Sorry to bother you” and introduce yourself.
If they look rushed, let it go.
Whatever you do, Randall said, don’t bring up a complaint. Catching them off guard like that is unprofessional. Don’t bring up a new idea you have for the company either — save that for a private meeting.
Regardless of how long you end up speaking with your CEO or how talkative they are, make sure you say, “It was a pleasure to meet you” before you part ways.
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