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Why is it that we sometimes feel the need to have conversations with people in the elevators/lift? I understand acknowledging people and saying hi, but it seems like in most cases (unless you are continuing one from the hallway) it doesn't work well for the people engaged in the conversation or those that have to listen to it.

There are a lot of variables in an elevator/lift, such as when people get in and out of the space, when you and the person you are talking to get out, and the number of people in the space at any given time which makes it difficult to have conversation.

Is there an acceptable way, or something in the etiquette rules to suggest what we should do in these types of situations?

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Garrison Neely, Jan Doggen, jcmeloni, IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 1 '14 at 18:07

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Based on your most recent questions you seem to have issues communicating with others in a casual setting. Perhaps the solution isn't to figure out how to shut them out, but to speak to a professional about your social anxiety? – user9158 Jul 30 '14 at 0:28
  • @LegoStormtroopr These are observations I have rather than personal experience. I do believe there are certain situations where personal conversation is frowned upon (e.g. public transport - at least in Australia). Just trying to find out effective ways people have dealt with the situation. – Michael Lai Jul 30 '14 at 0:43
  • Take the lead and tell your colleagues its better to take the stairs. You can still talk in the stairs but its more fun because of the echo in the stairwells and because you're moving around while doing it. I don't like elevators personally – Brandin Jul 30 '14 at 5:53
  • Take the stairs. If someone follows you, breathe heavy. – psaxton Jan 24 '17 at 17:20
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These are the strategies I used to avoid conversation in a space like an elevator (or lunch line or similar).

1. Others are engaging in awkward small talk

If you don't know the people involved, don't look at them directly. Look at your phone or your notes to appear 'engaged'. If you do know the people (from co-workers to that guy from the other department you had meeting with once), nod, then look away.

The key is to appear unavailable for conversation.

2. You are addressed in awkward small talk

Unless these are people I know well (like close co-workers), I usually keep my answers short. 'Terrible weather today', says random stranger. 'Yes, it is'. I reply, and look at my phone.

The idea is to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Give brief, polite answers and then look away. Note that this only works well for people you don't know or don't interact with on a daily basis. If the guy you sit next to all day wants to chat about how your BBQ went last weekend since it rained - well, you will probably have to tell the story.

I don't know if this is an 'etiquette rule', but it works for me. Note that it may be different in different cultures (both country and company wise), and I am in SW industry in the US. Checking your phone is an acceptable thing to do in an elevator in this culture.

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    Avoiding casual conversations is a great way to come off as anti-social and be excluded in the workplace. Avoiding all non-work conversations is a terrible idea. – user9158 Jul 30 '14 at 0:30
  • @LegoStormtroopr The user was specifically asking to avoid conversation in elevators, not avoiding all casual conversation. Looking 'otherwise engaged' is a trick to avoid being addressed at all, thus avoiding to seem un-social. Note that I assume most people in the elevator are not people you work closely with - people who might as well be strangers. – Ida Jul 30 '14 at 0:37
  • I am not sure I understand the downvote - I directly addressed the question asked. You may not agree with the answer (which would be no vote), but what specifically would make it a better answer? Is something unclear? – Ida Jul 30 '14 at 0:39
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I love to engage in easy banter with complete strangers, at least some strangers whom I read as being open to it. Engaging an MD in one of the hospital's elevators: "If I really screw up as a patient, which floor is the morgue? :)"

Idly gossiping: "Are you sure that our boss is human? :)"

Kissing up to the boss: "I am really concerned that you are not being your usual yourself. It's 9:15 AM and you haven't fired anyone yet :)"

Playing on the boss's insecurities like a violin: "I am sorry for all the things I said behind your back :)" Of course, I didn't say anything to anyone. Nothing wrong with having the boss going crazy investigating what I said :)

Developing rapport with a new colleague: "The team's dinner tonite won't be the same without you. You are on the menu :)"

Getting to know a new colleague: "Tell me the story of your life. You've got 15 seconds :)"

Telling a colleague that you are the forgiving type: "I have decided to let bygones be bygones, and forgive you for everything I did to you :)"

By the time I step off the elevator, they won't forget me. And they won't forgive me either - Amazing what elevator conversations can do for your image :)

Now that I've ruined someone's day - Back to work! :) Elevator conversations are a challenge because they must be short and to the point. And leave an indelible imprint on the other person's mind and leave them dumbfounded and speechless as you step off the elevator - that makes for shorter conversations,of course :)

  • Is there a good way to finish up on conversations that end suddenly? Such as when the other person has to get out at their floor? It is certainly hard to forget you after your answers to this question :D – Michael Lai Jul 30 '14 at 0:54
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    @Michael Lai You just say "Talk to you later" Or "Time's up!" :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 30 '14 at 0:58
  • It would be pretty cool to have someone like you around the office for sure! Very interesting profile and can certainly see you dealing with lots of different people all the time so thanks for the advice :) – Michael Lai Jul 30 '14 at 1:03
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    @VietnhiPhuvan - I was thinking of a joke to tell to ladies i am attracted to in my office elevator : One man: Hey mister, why your wife sad ? Other man: Because she ate McDonalds. Do you think I should tell this joke ? – Borat Sagdiyev Jul 30 '14 at 5:41
  • @BoratSagiyev Maybe not :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 30 '14 at 6:12
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The thing about avoiding conversations in the elevator(or other social niceties as your other recent questions have mentioned) is that it is easy to cross the line from 'quiet, shy, reserved person' to 'asshole who won't even say hi in the elevator'. And crossing that line has less to do with what you do and more to do with how your actions are perceived.

I think a valuable thing for you to consider is: why is it valuable to avoid elevator conversations? Is it more valuable than appearing to be connected on, at least a superficial, social level with your peers? If I were a betting man, I would wager that some of this is the result of a culture clash. Let me explain...

I'm a Finn. There's a concept in Finland that a stranger who smiles at you in public is either: a) drunk, b) foreign or c) drunk and foreign. Smalltalk isn't a thing. Hugging people who I know at a social level? Not a thing. Being within 6 feet of a stranger... not really a thing unless it's unavoidable. Working at a company, then, with a culture of smalltalk, overt friendliness and smiling at/chatting with random strangers/coworkers was a challenge for me. Seriously everyone wants to chat and be friendly at my company and, now that I'm used to it, that's pretty nifty. But, oh boy, was it awkward when I started. One of the ways I found to get through it was to just go with the awkward.

No one else is paying nearly as close attention to you as you think they are. Some of the people who start the elevator conversations with you are also feeling awkward about the whole thing. People who see you for the fifth time in the hallway might also be going 'oh crap... what do I say? we just said hi like 4 times already'. Sometimes it's useful to point this out in a polite and humorous way: "Oh man, didn't I just see you?" or "Elevator conversations are always so awkward to me, what's up with that?" Sometimes it takes getting to know people before it becomes less awkward. And sometimes it is always going to be awkward. But that's ok. Awkward conversations are not necessarily a bad thing.

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