Elevator Small Talk: A Social Experiment

Let’s start with a disclaimer: I am a die-hard introvert who has RBF. I avoid awkward small talk at all costs. For any other introverts out there, you know the struggle of finding a balance between the comfort of quiet and the attempt to be friendly. I decided to take the plunge. For the whole week, I would initiate small talk with whomever was stuck in my dorm elevator with me. Confined in a tiny place, I had to channel all my outgoing energy to whoever stepped into those sliding doors. Here’s how it went:


I walk into the elevator full of anticipation and anxiety of what I’d be stepping into. Eight people stand before me. Looks like I won’t be easing my way in. Struggling to dive into the situation, I spit out the first thing to come to my head. “Wow, someone in here smells good,” I spoke into the abyss. Other than a few shady side eyes and confused, sympathetic smiles, I got no response. I can’t blame them. I, too, cringed at this lame attempt of small talk. I walk out of that elevator feeling defeated and dreading the next five days before they even truly began. Five floors of stairs aren't looking so bad right about now. 


Ready to make up for the disgrace of the day before, I walk right on over to the elevator in the morning on my way down to breakfast. Relief sweeps over me when I see a neighbor from my floor walk in. Finally someone with some sort of common ground. A piece of cake, right? WRONG. I began to ask him about how he’s been liking the floor so far this year. He completely ignores everything I say, avoiding eye contact like the plague. We are the only two in the elevator.

Later that day, I finally find some luck. I walk into the elevator with two other boys and every button is pushed. Although it makes for a very inconvenient ride that is twice as long as necessary, I had my perfect conversation starter. We have an easygoing chat joking about why someone would feel compelled to light up the whole elevator panel. Some great small talk that did not have to be about the weather. I even get a few laughs, which is a nice change of pace from the constant side eyes. 


Today is the first day that I tackle this challenge in front of my friends. We all cram into the elevator with a boy who is already on his ride down. I delightfully ask him how his day was going. He says nothing and stares at the floor the whole way down. I am becoming accustomed to be blatantly ignored. What I did not expect was the reaction from my friend. She looks at me with utter shock and disbelief that I spoke to a complete stranger under my own will. She is convinced that I must be ill. It's the only reasonable explanation for my cheerful endeavors. Maybe this experiment is more out of character than I realized.


After multiple failed attempts at starting small talk, the Elevator Gods were watching over me. FINALLY. Every time I walk into the elevator, I am completely alone. At one point, I got so excited about my streak of luck that I accidentally began cheering to myself. This counts as small talk, right?


This is it. The final attempt to spread some cheer. And hopefully to stop failing miserably. Early in the morning, I hop into the elevator to see a girl with her laundry basket. It is the crutch I need to start a conversation. After telling her how smart it was to get her laundry done this early in the morning, we went into an in-depth conversation about how terrible the laundry room situation is. It was something we both seemed passionate enough to complain about it the whole way down. A much needed success on my last day. It took me long enough. 

On my last elevator ride up to my room at the end of night, I step in with one other girl. I give her a simple compliment on her shirt. She smiles so wide and tells me that I made her day. This, just maybe, makes up for all the other people completely pretending that I do not exist.


As my week of elevator small talk comes to a close, with a few successes and many, many failures, I did learn a few things. Most people were are as apprehensive as I am to start up a conversation. There’s nothing wrong with soaking in the silence. But when there is a chance to have a unforced, genuine conversation, even with a stranger, it’s best to take it. You never know when you can make someone’s day just by giving them a compliment. Stick to the positive stuff.


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