Did You Attend Elevator University?

Yes, that’s a serious question. And there’s a good reason for asking it. Think about it. Consider your behavior every time you ride an elevator. I’ll bet you do the following just as I and millions of others do.

  1. Push the button even though it’s already lit, indicating that others have pushed it before you. Do you think it’s going to get there faster by doing that?
  2. When it arrives, you then enter the elevator and automatically turn and face the front.
  3. You push the button of the floor you want—even if it’s already lit.
  4. You avoid eye contact with any of the other passengers.
  5. You probably fold your hands in front of you or behind you.
  6. You focus on the small screen showing the passing floors.
  7. Or you look straight ahead or at the floor.
  8. You say nothing to anyone or, if you’re with a companion, you speak only in hushed tones.
  9. When you get to your floor, you quickly exit the elevator and resume acting like an earthling.

Now my question is simple. Where did you learn to do that? Was it covered in grade school, middle school, or maybe high school? I don’t think it’s taught in college. Did, at some point in your young life, one or both of your parents sit you down for “THE” talk … you know, the “how to behave in an elevator talk”! Is it something you learned in the military or maybe a “job training program” at some point during your career? Or maybe it was much more simple than that.

Maybe there was a sign on the wall listing those behaviors. No, we know there’s never been a sign.

Obviously not. Our behavior is under the control of unwritten social rules, implicit norms, which govern appropriate elevator demeanor. Social norms are expectations shared by the members of a group about appropriate ways to behave in given situations.

And it’s not formal training by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not even openly acknowledged. Yet we’re manipulated like puppets on invisible strings and this unusual experience isn’t limited to an elevator. Consider how we act in a court room, in a hospital waiting room, in a library, attempting to board an airplane at the airport, in a laundromat, or in a restaurant. In each situation we mindlessly follow the dictates of group norms and situational forces.

Years ago there was a very popular family TV program called “Allen Funt’s Candid Camera.” In what might be his most ingenious stunt, “Face the Rear,” his staff rigged an elevator so that after an unsuspecting person enters, four Candid Camera staff members enter, and one by one they all face the rear. The doors close and then reopen; now revealing that the passenger had conformed and is now also facing the rear. Doors close and reopen, and everyone is facing sideways, and then face the other way. I’m sure you can guess the outcome.

Watch this short, but hilarious, video but pause before laughing too loud. Think about how many times, in each of the scenarios mentioned above, YOU have been manipulated like a puppet on a string!

Well, times are changing and norms are being replaced by new strategies in hopes that we can survive and thrive in today’s challenging and chaotic environment. It’s time to challenge norms, rethink current strategies, try different approaches, consider calculated risks, and expand comfort zones!

Why not start with the ELEVATOR? The next time you enter that “sacred square” consider one of the following behaviors to liven up the existence of those still connected to those invisible strings.

  1. Greet everyone getting on the elevator with a warm handshake and ask them to call you Admiral.
  2. Say “Ding!” at each floor.
  3. Make explosion noises when anyone presses a button.
  4. Stand silent and motionless in the corner, facing the wall, without getting off.
  5. Whistle the first seven notes of “It’s a Small World” incessantly.
  6. Crouch in one corner and growl menacingly at everyone who gets on.
  7. Stare, grinning, at another passenger for a while, and then announce: “I’ve got new socks on!”
  8. Read Green Eggs and Ham as though it were Shakespeare. Sound out every word!
  9. When there is only one other person in the elevator, tap them on the shoulder and then pretend it wasn’t you.
  10. As the elevator is going up, jump violently up and down, shouting, “Down! I said down, darn it!”
  11. Announce in a demonic voice: “I must find a more suitable host body.”
  12. Upon entering a full elevator, face the entire group and say: “I’ll bet you’re wondering why I called this meeting.”

Now that you’ve had some fun, focus on other situations in your life where you’ve been a victim of unwritten social rules or implicit norms. Re-frame, leave the path, make a difference, strive and thrive … and keep me posted!

Now excuse me as I gather my pogo stick, tripod, and snare drum … I have an elevator to catch!

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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