I have a confession to make. I’m one of those folks that people tend to resent. One of those who when you find yourself stuck with us the end can’t seem to come soon enough.
Yep, I talk to strangers on elevators.
I never used to do it. I’d stand there trying my best to avoid meaningful eye-contact with those trapped with me in the ascending or descending metal box. Other than a polite “excuse me” or to ask the person jammed closest to the buttons to press my floor, I stayed as silent as possible.
Things started to change for me when a few people in my building started striking up conversations with me on our vertical travels. I was a little surprised at first, but something amazing happened — neither of us burst into flames, the world didn’t stop turning and when it ended, I found that I had actually enjoyed the experience.
Of course, elevator talkers aren’t made overnight and I found I had to take baby steps. In spite of the fact that I’m a journalist who has interviewed and questioned all kinds of muckety-mucks, I’m not naturally the kind of person who can just walk up to a stranger and strike-up a conversation. I’m generally good talking to someone I don’t know, but usually only if they approach me rather than the other way around.
So, I started small. I began by greeting folks when we got on and wishing them well when we got off. I was pleasantly surprised that most folks didn’t immediately tell me off, but rather seemed genuinely glad that I made the effort.
Naturally, this led to the start of conversations. I’d love to tell you that in no time at all I knew all about everyone who has ever set foot in my building, but our elevator chats are usually much more modest.
Unsurprisingly, the weather comes up a lot. I remember reading years ago about how baffled some immigrants are about Canadian’s constant need to talk about the weather. I guess when you come from a country that has only two types of seasonally specific weather — rainy season or dry season — it is odd. Then again, so is Canadian weather.
I’ve also found that topics are date and time specific. If you’re coming in anytime after 5 p.m., we’ll often chat about our days at work. However, if it’s after 5 p.m. on a Thursday or Friday, the it’s all about plans for the weekend.
But it isn’t all small talk. Thanks to my elevator chats, I successfully recruited a drummer to join my concert band, discovered that I have common friends with some of my neighbours and heard about a family’s first Christmas in Canada. I’ve also learned about some of the challenges, health or otherwise, that people are dealing with. I make a point to find out how they’re doing, because I’ve come to care about them.
Occasionally, I will get someone who is engrossed in their phone or just giving off a leave-me-alone vibe, that I won’t try and engage, but for the most part it seems to make people’s day just a little bit brighter.
And for me, that’s well worth the effort.