Monday, April 28, 2014

Elevator Fun - Who's up to take the CHALLENGE?

When I was in college I took a lot of sociology classes. I have always been fascinated in the way people interact with one another, especially groups of people. This morning I remembered a particularly insightful lesson about social norms in elevators. 

Social norms according to the Dictionary are "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, believes, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit." In an elevator, these social norms are pretty obvious and really easy to mess with. 

Examples of social norms in elevators: 

  • Make sure anyone exiting the elevator can do so before you enter.
  • Enter elevators gazing down if there are people already inside. 
  • Position your body with approximately the same amount of space as the other people in the elevator. In other words, the amount of space should be equal between all passengers. As more people join the elevator, everyone adjusts their space to accommodate this. 
  • Stand facing the doors of the elevator. 
  • Any conversation is hushed unless everyone in the elevator knows one another. 
  • Eye contact is usually limited. 
  • People typically watch elevator buttons for progress. 
  • If there is a mirror in the elevator, people generally will only stare at themselves when alone. 

What I love to do in elevator rides is break some of the rules in a thoughtful way. I have found that an elevator is an extremely opportune with finite amount of time to create an "intimate" relationship. I have noticed that by breaking some of the social norms you and seeing the strangers reactions can open the doors to very interesting discussions. 

Here is an example: Instead of gazing down as I enter an elevator, I make direct eye contact and enthusiastically greet one person in the elevator. They either respond in kind or look down and mumble a response. If I get a reciprocal response, it is a great opportunity to dive into something interesting. 

In this approach, I have had conversations move to religion (around holiday seasons), business challenges, marriage problems and a whole host of other topics people rarely share with strangers. I think it is because the time frame of the relationship is pre-established as a few minutes. There is limited risk in over sharing. 

Business people often talk about the so called "elevator pitch" which I absolutely hate. Instead, I use a more personal approach to making my elevator time interesting and sometimes productive. Showing genuine interest in people's lives when you have a window for some forced "intimacy" can go a long way. I typically totally avoid my line of work discussion in an elevator and stay more personal. If there is a connection established that may be good for business, sometimes I will ask for a card or tell the person "I'll find you on Linked In." 

A few warnings: 

  • If you mess with social norms and the people in the elevator do not engage, revert back to social norms quickly. Otherwise it can get very uncomfortable fast. 
  • If you take the same elevator most days and see similar people or only people from your company, this is not a smart tactic. Typically those elevators will already be pretty friendly so just enjoy the small chat. 
CHALLENGE: Is anyone willing to try sitting in an elevator and letting me know what reactions they get from people???? I have always wanted to try this but have never been brave enough to actually do it. 

Happy Monday. Enjoy your next elevator ride! 

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