Elevator Small Talk


5 minute read

November 12, 2012

Do you ever get tired of the small talk?

Or are you the one trying to break the awkward silence in the elevator?

There’s nothing wrong with being friendly, is there?

Is there anything wrong with smiling at somebody as they come on the elevator?

Do you find the question, “How are you?” to be completely and utterly rhetorical?  Isn’t the answer always, “Fine”?  Or does anybody ever answer, “Well, since you asked, I’m actually a little upset about something that happened at work…”

I was having this conversation with a couple of friends over the weekend, and one of them suggested, “There is nothing more annoying than making small talk in the elevator; doesn’t matter if it’s in your office building, or in your condo, it’s just so utterly pointless and stupid.”

Strong words!

He’s not a negative guy, and he’s actually quite friendly, but he backed up his opinion with this: “I just can’t stand talking for the sake of talking, or rather because silence is deemed unacceptable.  Ninety-five percent of the time, elevator conversation is pointless.”

I can’t disagree.

I’ve been living in various condos for the past seven years, and I have to admit that my friend is right – most of the conversation you have in the elevator is designed no go nowhere.  More to the point, the conversation is usually confined to the same eight or nine topics of conversation…

The Weather.  This is a classic, can’t-go-wrong elevator conversation.

“Man, it sure is cold out there!”  It’s a never-fail silence-breaker!

However, half the time I feel like pointing out the problem: “Well, I wouldn’t know what the weather is like, since I’m just getting on the elevator, from the 9th floor, and heading down to go outside for the first time today.”

Nevertheless, a hot day, a cold day, a rainy day or even a day with no identifiable weather pattern whatsoever is something that simply MUST be talked about in the elevator with complete strangers.  Both up and down in the elevator last week, I had somebody talk about the wind-storm and how crazy it was!  Hey – apparently, it’s better than standing in silence.

Babies & Dogs.  This one is a slam-dunk.

It doesn’t matter if the dog is the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen (I suppose the same thing goes for the baby…), this is a definitive conversation-starter.

People love to smile at dogs and babies, and even if they don’t want to start a conversation, they can make faces at the dog or the baby in lieu of staring at the buttons on the elevator wall and completely ignoring the other human being inside the 6 x 6 foot vertical cube.

Then comes the moronic banter, such as the question, “Taking him for a walk?”

Really?  Ya think?  I left my condo and got in the elevator with my dog – yes, I’m taking him for a walk, I’m not just showing him off to whoever I happen to meet in the elevator.

Then there’s the age-guessing with babies that often blows up in the small-talker’s face.  “Ooooh……he’s so cute!  How old – eighteen months?”

“No,sheis four weeks.”

Ooops.  Maybe you should have stayed quiet and stared at the floor…

Whatever you happen to be carrying.  Instant talking point!

And this can lead to some of the most truly inane conversation.

“Grocery shopping, eh?” says the passenger who clues in  based on the slew of bags from the GROCERY store, that happen to contain GROCERIES.

“Yep…..grocery shopping, indeed,” you say, as you wonder why the hell you’re having this little chat.

Then sometimes, the conversation turns geographic.

“You go to Loblaw’s, huh?  Ever go to the Metro down the street?”

“Sometimes,” you say, as you pray watch the light turn from 5, to 6, to 7, and suddenly wish you lived on the 8th floor instead of the 28th…

Time of day.  This one helps you clue into whether or not the small-talker knows what planet he or she is on.

“Good morning,” nods the passenger as you step inside, wondering why somebody would say that at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Then there’s the imaginary camaraderie that every working-man or woman has.

“Home sweet home,” says the one suit-wearer at 6:30pm to the other suit-wearer, as if to suggest that day-to-day life is incredibly difficult, and perhaps the two of you can commiserate for fourteen seconds as the elevator rises.

“Good to be home,” and “Long day,” are good substitutes for the above, but they all convey the same message: I can’t stand the silence in this elevator, and whether it’s first thing in the morning, or coming home after work, I’m going to say something.

The crowded elevator. Picture the elevator with 10-12 people in it.  Now picture the first guy to talk.

Do you know that guy?  Can you picture him?

A psychologist would have a field day with this one!

What does it say about the guy who is in an elevator with eleven other people, jammed in like sardines in a can, and he simply MUST say something?

Usually it’s a really lame joke, often something so lame and obvious that you think he might be mentally unstable: “Sure is crowded in here,” he says, as he does his best Captain Obvious impression.  It’s often something like, “Who’s hand is on my leg,” but that’s about as witty as you can expect.

Is this guy just vying for attention?

Was he an only-child?  Or was he the youngest in a family of eight children, and thus he never got the attention he deserved?

Or is he just lonely?  Does he go home every night to his small bachelor condo and make friends with the cast of X-Factor?  Is an elevator full of people as close as he’s ever come to having a party in this building?

The poor guy.

Are we on the 9th floor yet?

Hypochondria.  Some people are more worried about dying in the elevator than they are worried about an awkward silence in a small space.

You can recognize this person by the giant inhale and ‘sigh’ they let out as soon as the doors begin to close.

If the elevator stops on a floor, and doesn’t open within 0.2 seconds, this person will say, “What’s wrong?  Why isn’t the door opening?  Is it stuck?”

If there’s a sound – any sound whatsoever, not even a weird one, this person will ask “What was that?” as if your name is OTIS and you invented the elevator.

Elevator-related deaths outside of movies and television are down about 99.99% since the 1920’s but this person didn’t get the memo.

It’s small-talk, and this person believes it has merit, but suddenly you wish you were talking about which of your groceries were on sale with the guy-with-the-sideburns from the 11th floor…

Anything an old person feels like talking about.  Old people have carte blanche to bring up any topic, whatsoever, and you have to not only converse, but also be interested.

“That…..is a……really……nice…..handbag,” says the old-timer as you move from the 18th floor down to the 15th.

“THANK, you,” you say, smiling so hard that it actually hurts your eardrums.  “My grandmother bought it for me last summer,” you add, trying to find some common ground with this delightful, sweet old person that you know has nobody else to talk to.

This is the only acceptable type of forced elevator small talk.

And to be honest, the only type of small talk I find myself actually starting-up is with somebody over eighty.

It’s the least you can do, and sometimes, a quaint conversation might make that elderly lady’s day!

Call me crazy, but I feel no obligation to laugh at the pathetic joke of the attention-seeker in a crowded elevator, but I will go out of my way to ask how Mabel or Dorothy is feeling.


Lastly, and not related to the subject above, have you ever looked up at the ceiling in an elevator and wondered whether or not there was a “hatch” you could open in an emergency?

In every movie, it’s always so easy to get up into the elevator shaft!  All you have to do is stand up on the rail on the elevator wall, open the hatch (that’s very clearly marked, and has a handle), and then fling it open and climb up (presumably to steal jewels or break into a CEO’s office).

In reality, how many elevators have a hatch in the ceiling?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, in all my years of riding in elevators.

Just some food for thought on a Monday morning!

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. moonbeam!

    at 7:40 am

    Ha-ha! so true!! two more points: why do we feel obligated to hold the door open for late-comers? and why do some people ask ‘what floor?’ so they can press the button for you?

  2. Floom

    at 11:23 am

    Two things I like to do to shake things up…1. get on a crowed elevator and face the rest of the people. i.e. I won’t turn around and stare at the door. They hate that. 2. stand at the back of the elevator and face the wall. People get mad nervious yo.

  3. jg

    at 11:44 am

    Speaking of carrying stuff….i came home on a Friday night once holding a copy of HBR and a 6 of Stella.
    a guy with his girl looks at me and says…”big night for you? Harvard Business Review and a sixer”..and starts to chuckle.

    its moments like that i feel like Costanza …stuck without a good comeback.

    1. David Fleming

      at 12:37 pm

      @ JG

      “Yeah…….well the jerk-store called, and they’re all out of YOU!”


  4. KS

    at 5:05 pm

    So are there conversations you would suggest that are acceptable to getting to know your neighbours? Or are conversations in condo elevators never a socially acceptable place to get to know your neighbours?

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