What to say to strangers in the elevator – my top 3 tips

Man and woman awkwardly waiting for an elevator

A client asked me this question recently: how do I connect with people in the elevator?

Lucky for him, I spend a lot of time in elevators (hah! wheelchair joke), and I’ve thought about this question a lot.

Let’s get some truth out of the way first: elevator rides are awkward. Why?

  • Because everyone is on their way to someplace else

  • Because you are trapped in a small box with a stranger

  • Because it’s a VERY short interaction

Connecting with people in an elevator is different from connecting with people at a networking event. It's a totally different environment. Most people don’t strive to connect with strangers in elevators – they just accept it as an awkward part of life and move on. But if you are like me, that’s not good enough.

I want to be the social, charismatic guy that can connect with people everywhere. Maybe I’m making up for lost time. Maybe I just love people. Or maybe I just want people to love me everywhere I go.

In any case, let’s cover what not to do first. Here are two terrible strategies that do not work. I know, because I’ve tried them way too often in the past.

Terrible Strategy #1: Avoidance

This comes in many forms.

  • Staring at the wall

  • Checking my phone

  • Fidgeting around for my keys

But let’s be real. The elevator wall is not THAT interesting, my cell phone doesn’t work in the elevator, and I know where my keys are. I was just trying to ease my discomfort, and hoping people would talk to me. Nobody did, of course, because all these actions send a message of “don’t bother me.”

Terrible Strategy #2: Make small talk

Take your pick of these “riveting” conversations.

  • Mentioning the weather

  • Talking about local news/sports

  • Complaining about how slow the elevator is today

Some would say this is better than Strategy #1, but it makes me want to barf. It’s verbal vomit. Saying something just to say something. It’s meaningless, unfulfilling, and I would rather say nothing.

I understand why people do it (habit, they haven’t thought about it, everyone else does it, etc.) and I know they mean well – it’s just that I want to do better.

And we can do better. Here’s how.

Tip #1: Smile and make eye contact

This may seem obvious, but sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own heads, it’s easy to forget. Doing this sends an immediate signal to the other person that you are friendly! They will usually smile back, which puts them in a better mood and makes them more open to connection.

Tip #2: Say hello

Again, this sounds way too simple, but it works wonders. If you break the silence, people will be more willing to talk to you. If you don’t, they have no way of knowing whether or not you want to be talked to.

I do this all the time, and people often respond with a compliment about my hair or glasses. This tells me that people often want to connect, and are thinking good things about others, but they are just a bit shy to initiate. If you take the plunge for the both of you, you will be handsomely rewarded.

(PS this is another reason to always look sharp and accessorize)

Tip #3: Ask a light, interesting question

Taking a genuine interest in people is a sure way to make them to love you. However, you don’t have a lot of time in the elevator, so the focus in this situation is to learn something about the other person, no matter how small.

Contextual questions are great, if you notice something that you can comment on, such as:

  • What kind of dog is that? How did you adopt him/her?

  • Where do you like to golf?

  • Where did you get that jacket?

If I can’t think of anything else, I fall back on these questions:

  • Are you doing anything exciting today?

  • Where are you off to?

  • Did you have a good day?

And I will usually learn something interesting about the person. Just yesterday, a neighbor told me she got promoted, that she’s a buyer for kids clothing, and that she got Chinese takeout to celebrate. That tells me a lot about her, and all it took was me smiling and saying “hi, did you have a good day today?” on a 30 second elevator ride.

Yes, 30 seconds! It is really just that quick and simple.

In the case of neighbors, you can get to know people over time. I try to remember what I have learned about a neighbor, and ask them about it the next time I see them. Over the past several months, I have become quite chummy with an older, retired gentleman in my building through 30 second elevator rides. At first, he didn't say much to me, but now, his face lights up when I greet him by name. I’ve learned that he’s Korean, he used to work in nuclear energy, and his dog’s name is Mikey. I’m looking forward to inviting him over for tea the next time I see him.

In the case of elevators outside home, this is just good practice. Like muscles, using your conversation skills keeps them strong. And you never know who that person in the elevator could be – my friend was introducing me to his boss at a holiday party, and to his surprise, we already knew each other. We were in the elevator just a few minutes prior, and I had asked about the boss’s cool socks. I made my friend look good, and I had an instant rapport with his boss.

Elevators are awkward, and not everyone is used to conversing in them. But if you stop talking about the weather and use these tips, and you’ll have a much better shot at connecting with people.

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If you try these tips, send me an email and let me know what you learned.

Do you freeze up around people, and especially around attractive women? Have you never kissed a girl? Have you never had a girlfriend? Do you feel that everybody else has friends but you don’t? I’ve been there. And it sucks.

Here's my 30 second story: 

I use a wheelchair and I have a degenerative muscle condition. I was always the shy, nerdy kid, and I had ZERO success with women – my first kiss didn't happen until I was 22 years old. I went to an Ivy League University and landed my dream job at Microsoft, but I was miserable. After the girl I was in love with told me, "I don't know how any woman could be attracted to a guy in a wheelchair," I hired a dating coach to turn my life around. Now, my social calendar is booked weeks in advance, and I get to choose the friends that I really want to spend time with. Now, I've been on 60+ dates, I've enjoyed sex and intimacy with several women, and I've had incredible girlfriends. 

If you desire similar experiences, I know I can help you. Get my practical tips for improving your social and dating life by signing up below. I would love to help you, because now that I've experienced these massive improvements in my life, I wish someone would have stepped in much earlier and helped me.

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