What To Say In An Elevator

Ever noticed that awkward silence that often prevails when sharing an elevator with a stranger? Here are a few tips about what to say.

"Going up."

A generation or two ago, public elevators were run by uniformed operators, so those who used elevators always had someone to talk to if they desired:

"Good morning, Bill. Isn't the weather great?"

"Sure is, Mr. Kelly. Hope to enjoy it later."

But today most elevators are programmed to run automatically, so patrons have no one to talk to unless there are other users on board at the same time.

But what do you say to someone you don't know who is standing quite close to you in a crowded elevator? Proximity makes you more than just strangers but less than acquaintances. Should you stare straight ahead and say nothing? Allow an enigmatic smile to play about your lips? Look at the ground with a slight frown?

Since you may be sharing an elevator with people that you work with or that share your apartment building, it may be a good idea to cultivate a bit of friendliness with some of the friendly faces that you see daily. There is no obligation, however, to smile or chat with someone who looks suspicious or who may misread your polite manner for something else. In such cases, silence works very well.

But for the approachable regulars, here are a few tips. Keep in mind that these can vary based on gender, age, and cultural differences:

1. One option is to use body language only. A slight smile with a second of eye contact suggests that you are being cordial. A brighter grin and perhaps an arm gesture as you motion for someone to precede you implies a friendlier attitude. Don't get silly or obnoxious, however, as these people have to share a small space with you for several stories of indoor travel.

2. Another possibility is to try a few words or a couple of sentences of small talk to make the other person feel comfortable. The chat can be about mundane things like the weather or a shared observation, like a bystander's outrageous outfit.

3. If you know where the person works, try a few casual comments or questions about the job:

"I've heard J&M is a great company to work for."

"Do you start at 8:30 a.m.?"

4. For those who appear trustworthy and friendly, you may want to add a little more to the mix, something that begins to build a bridge of communication between you:

"I'm tired today. My son's 8th birthday party yesterday did me in."

5. An elevator may be a great place to post an ad for those free puppies, inexpensive used furniture, or other business you're trying to conduct. If you are not permitted to post a sign, try preparing an informal verbal announcement as familiar faces enter and leave the elevator:

"Good morning. You don't know anyone who's looking for an adorable free kitten, do you?"

Elevators serve a wealth of communication purposes, from companionship to flirtation to conducting small business affairs. Polish your communication skills until they shine to be sure that you know what to say and how to respond the next time an elevator chat becomes a possibility.

6. Occasionally, elevator chat can lead to more lasting bonds as people get to know one another. Luncheon dates, job referrals, and even screenplay pitches have been done in elevator rides. Just don't take advantage of others' good nature to criticize something they've done.

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