Sunday, September 15, 2019

Correcting a case of mistaken identity

Many of us have found ourselves in awkward settings in which we're approached by someone who seems to know who we are, but we can't for the life of us remember his or her name or, in some cases, whether we actually know that person.

The latter regularly occurs when approached on the street by an eager pedestrian who, it sometimes turns out, is using familiarity to try to sell something or seek donations for a cause.

In the cases of forgetting a name, it's fair game to choose whether to ask the person to remind you or to simply carry on the conversation. In the case of the soliciting pedestrian, it's up to you whether to stop and chat or politely walk by.

But a reader we're calling Robbie wants to know what the right thing to do was when he found himself in conversation with a person who had approached him at work only to discover well into the discussion that the person he was talking to mistook him for a mutual colleague who shared a glancing resemblance to Robbie.

"By the time I figured out she thought I was someone else, it felt awkward to correct her," writes Robbie. Instead, he writes that he tried as hard as her could to end the conversation as quickly as possible. "Should I have done more?"

A few possible issues arise from not correcting his colleague's case of mistaken identity.

First, it puts the other colleague in an awkward spot if she takes up the conversation with him and he hasn't a clue what she's talking about. That's not really Robbie's problem, I suppose, but it's not the most thoughtful thing to do to a colleague. Correcting her would likely take a lot less time than visiting the mutual colleague to fill him in so he would be up to speed.

Second, Robbie runs the risk of having the person discover her mistake from someone else at the company and having her wonder what kind of guy pretends to be someone he's not, even if that wasn't Robbie's intention.

Awkward stuff happens. We call our closest friends and family members by the wrong name sometimes. But feeling embarrassed by awkward situations is no reason not to set things straight as soon as we discover an error.

When he discovered that it was clear that she thought she was talking to someone else, the right thing would have been for Robbie to tell his colleague. Robbie could have taken on as much responsibility for the miscue as his colleague by letting her know it took a while for him to figure out that she clearly had someone else in mind.

It might be an awkward transition to the conversation, but it's an honest one and one that is likely to save each of them a great deal of time in the future. They can take some joy in also now knowing someone else at work who seems interesting to talk to, even if they originally had no idea who one another was. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin

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