Elevator Etiquette: To Talk or Not to Talk

Everyone knows that awkward moment when you step onto an elevator, there’s one person on there already, and you have a long ride up or down to your destination. Do you make small talk? Ignore them completely? Pull out your cell phone and make up a pretend conversation so you don’t have to make the decision? We’ve all been there, and while there are no hard and fast rules, there are some etiquette suggestions we should follow.

Proper Elevator Etiquette

First off, when you get onto an elevator and you’re the only one, stand off to the side to let more people on comfortably later. The rule of thumb after that is:

  • Two people in the cab: Go to separate sides
  • Four people: Everyone takes a corner
  • Five or more: Simply face the door, stand up straight, put bags and briefcases directly in front of your body hanging down.

The issue of personal space is a big one on elevators. It’s called proxemics and it generally goes like this, according to Today:

  • Intimate: 0 to 18 inches
  • Casual: 1 1/2 to 4 feet
  • Social: 4 to 10 feet
  • Public: 10 feet or more

Of course, we can’t always have the personal space we want, especially on crowded elevators. If you’re just really not in the mood to speak to strangers, you can prevent an invasion of your time and space by reducing your large body movements, nixing the eye contact and lowering your voice. This doesn’t mean you can’t say a quick hello, how are you – it’s just all in the way you say it and act it.

Blank stares are the mode of choice for those who don’t want to be disturbed on an elevator ride. Respect this non expression when you see it, perhaps offer a quick hello but don’t expect much in return. Many people are pre-occupied during this time; they’re thinking of their day ahead, what meeting they’re late to, when they have to pick up the kids from day care, how lucky they’ll get with that new pitch with the boss, etc.

While exchanging quick pleasantries with other passengers is considered well within the range of good elevator etiquette, striking up awkward conversations with strangers or carrying on conversations with your friends in a loud manner is not OK. No one wants to hear your marital problems as related to your best friend, nor does anyone want to know the latest cute thing your toddler did at home.

Crowded Elevator

Loud talking, yelling, swearing, guffawing and the like are all considered no-no’s on elevators. How do you know the new boss you’ll be interviewing with isn’t on that elevator in the corner? But professional gaffs aside, it’s considered just plain rude to invade others’ space in the sanctity of an elevator car. This is a neutral place, not somewhere to air your grievances or pull others into your awkward conversations. You’re making them complicit in your life and nobody wants that. Take a hint: look at the non-verbal cues you’re getting from others. Are they inching away from you? Are they avoiding eye contact? Are they making faces or rolling their eyes?

If you were talking with a friend as you stepped onto the elevator, stop the conversation before the ride, then resume once you step off. Simple. And as for greeting strangers in the cab itself, remember: it’s never rude to offer a cheery “hello” or “how are you doing today”? If you pick up on further friendly cues from your passenger, you can take it a step further, like “some weather we’re having, huh?” or “I love your shoes.”

Everyone likes to be acknowledged. Just respect personal boundaries, read body language, and react appropriately.