If I were to write a book on social situations of interest, one of the most intriguing would be ‘the elevator situation’. Not intriguing because of a fire and four people are stuck in the elevator screaming for water, food and cigarettes, or because of the X number of pornographic films based upon themes set to offices, but because of the mere intensity of the nothingness in the situation at hand.
People, human beings with all their lives, beliefs, hopes, dreams, sexual fantasies etc. etc. are pushed together like stacks of cards into a little box with insufficient airsupply. In our days they refuse to see the obvious humour of the situation, instead they desperately try to save it.
Let’s see how.
I’ve set down the perimiter of my scientifical focus on one building with four floors and about a houndred people working there every day. I’ve decided that the cantina, everybody’s littly sanctuary, is in the basement, along with the only inviting room for smoking smokers to do their thing (which is a completely other situation best described induvidually).
In the half-hour before I, the observer, take lunch, you can see smiling faces and recieve almost ecstatic internal e-mails telling you about how much they want to eat for lunch. This should prove that the hours the lunch are served are pretty social and loosened up. If you, during these specific hours (11-13), should encounter someone in the elevator going up from the cantina, you’ll most probably have something to talk about; today’s lunch, yesturday’s lunch, the lunch you once had in France or anything else that is lunch-related.
Normally, you don’t have anything to talk about. You are the observer, not the actor, and should therefore shut up in order to let normal conditions be allowed to enter the situation, while still hiding from them the truth that you are a scientist at work. This is, of course, pretty hard to justify if you are to respect the ethics of science, which is why we silently forget about them now.
As I was saying; Normally, you don’t have anything to talk about. Most persons, or research objects, I’ve met, have a fixed number of worthless conversations. The nature of these is easy to recognize: they can be started at any given time in any give situation (at the movie theatre, in the gym’s locker-room, in the super or during a raging fire), they don’t express any particular opinion which makes it easy to agree or disagree something the initial speaker can react upon, they tend to be friendly or neutral, and mostly they evolve around topics such as the weather or starving ethiopians. In any situation the object is insecure or to a degree; under stress, he or she (or it!) will with a probability of 0,8 start a worthless conversation with a randomized subject as mentioned above, or something so current and related to the job as a whole that the receiver can easily reply. In example:
Example 1: the humorous approach
[Object A is standing in the elevator and holds the door open for object B, which is hurrying to reach the elevator. A has already pushed the button represinting his/her floor, and B is going to the floor below.]
A smiles when B enters.
B: Thank you. (breathing)
A smiles again.
B: Don’t want to be forced to walk all those stairs again.
A insinuates a common fact, subject: good health. Humorously.
B laughs to support A’s feeble attempt of humour and/or knowledge.
[the Elevator reach the floor B is going to]
Example 2: the weather (random topic)
[Object A is standing in the elevator looking at him/herself in the mirror, more or less content, when B enters just before the door is closing]
A is under stress, not knowing wether B saw him/her looking at him/herself in the mirror.
A chooses a RANDOM TOPIC (see: worthless conversations); e.g. "The rain this morning was horrible"
B must reply positively to this, both to support A and because disliking the weather is a common opinion. If B wants a worthwhile conversation he or she can state that he or she really likes the rain because etc. etc.
[Elevator reach the designated floor]
Example 3: the Risk – and failure
[Object A is coming into the elevator on the third floor, elevator going down. Object B and C is standing there in silence.]
A is forced to recognize the situation presented. I.e: Is the silence there as a peaceful pause in a conversation, or is it a tense, endless silence?
A takes the Risk and gathers the situation is musing and peaceful.
A makes a joke on [RANDOM TOPIC] or [JOB-RELATED, CURRENT EVENT].
The silence remains.
A has failed and is henceforth presented with the choice of:
a) shutting up. (probability: 70%)
b) nervous laugh. (probability: 20%)
c) desperately get out of the elevator in a dramatical fashion. (probability: 10%)
The consequences of a), b) or c) are respictively:
– nothing serious that can’t be justified later
– an additional tenseness to the already tense situation (see: social panic)
– panic and/or discomfort (among B and C)
[end of examples]
As shown above, these are highly normal occourences in the elevator situation. Yet people stubbornly do the same mistakes all over again; they fail to recognize the situation they’ve brought themselves into and deal with it like they normally would deal with a totally different situation, maybe with a café-setting, where everybody can escape the dismay at hand, thus failing.
In conclusion I’d just like to say that if you find the elevator situation tense, do not laugh nervously or comment the weather, just say the first thing that comes into your mind and humorize it! If nothing else, you’ve proven yourself not to be self-righteous and you can present that to your co-workers as an example of your character in a later social event. Of course some topics should be avoided. Don’t blow away the limit, don’t take the risk, be natural. AND DO REMEMBER TO BREATHE! Thanks.
Additional Note: more about this a-coming.
For references, see: In what way can you put 20 people in a fridge while still entertaining them?