How many times must I greet my colleagues in the hall each day? I run out of clever things to say.
Any veteran of book signings, anyone of royal blood, in fact anyone who has ever been a guest of honor, knows exactly how you feel. The stress. the nagging strain of having to be On, all the time.
Despite the challenges of maintaining a deep arsenal of wit, light banter handled judiciously can enhance your reputation and make you more memorable. I'm continually astonished at how frequently I am quoted. I don't even remember saying half the things that are attributed to me. But the stakes are high for those of us who speak in aphorism. Like the emailed joke list, a witticism that was once fresh and delightful can easily send coworkers running if you overuse it.
I'll let you in on a little secret about how it's done on television. No talk show host or sitcom actor produces all those laughs through pure brilliance (although I'd certainly exempt my guest spots from such a generalization). A studio audience is carefully recruited and vigorously prompted because even people of goodwill get tired when listening to others fail at fabulousness. If you think of your colleague as that type of listener, you can see how exhausting it is always to be on the receiving end of someone else's repartee. Especially in hallways with no stairwell exits.
The achievable goal in the workplace is to signal your pleasant awareness of coworkers' existence. My dog Dickie wags his tail, a habit I'd advise you to adopt in spirit.
When you do see these people, greet them the first time. "Hello" or "Good morning" will work, unless you're sure you have something better. Be sure. For subsequent moments, a nonverbal acknowledgment is all you need. A slight smile, perhaps, a glance, or a tilt of the head.
If you meet them dozens of times a day, just keep walking after the third occasion. Your beloved colleagues may interpret your silence as a sign of serenity and effortless command, the fabulous qualities your earlier behavior demonstrated. Or they actually might speak to you. In either case, your problem is solved.