I had a friend, Barry, who would stand, while waiting for an elevator, as close to the door as possible without touching it. When the doors opened, the individuals would be greeted by this face staring at them and saying “Good morning, all!”
Of course, he didn’t always get a laugh or a reciprocal greeting, but he never got punched in the face.
So what do you say when riding in an elevator? Do you say , “Good morning,” or “What a great day it is,” or do you just turn around and stare at the floor numbers as you ride up or down? The point is, we should all be taught from childhood that small talk is acceptable, useful, courteous and, often, fun. Yesterday, I was in the Dollar store buying a box of Beef broth My Beloved needed for a sweet potato salad. I chose the line in which just a couple of young woman were buying a stick each of chewing gum. So, I should be out quickly. However, it developed that they were in the line-up really to buy three gold balloons and three other balloons, all of which had to have the helium injected by the cashier. Oh, my! This is going to take a while, I thought. I turned around and faced the man, a Spanish American, and said to him, “I always seem to choose the slowest line!” He responded by saying he did, too. And we started a little conversation. Then a voice from the next cash desk said, “I can take the next person.” As a result of that little friendship we had struck up, the gentleman backed up out of our line, smiled at me, and asked me to go over to the new line, holding back others behind him, before he himself followed me.
It was gracious of the man. But would it have been the same reaction had I not introduced some small talk? I think it may well have been different.
Back to the elevator, so many people are afraid to offer even the smallest bit of small talk. Or, they might feel embarrassed; or they could be in a bad mood. What is small talk? A dictionary definition misses the point, I believe, when it defines it as “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.” [Emphasis added] In my opinion, while it is useful on social occasions, it is more necessary in day to day contact with people whom we do not know or those whom we may know from work, but who are not our friends. More than one article has been written about the necessity of small talk in business, particularly in two situations: in interviews for a job; and in negotiations. The person who is able to open up with commenting on a current news event, the traffic hassle getting here, how the Leafs actually won a game, or even the traditional standby, the weather, is going to be more interesting for the interviewer or other party in a negotiation. The interviewer can get a better feel for the person inside the body sitting in front of him or her. The atmosphere will more likely become more friendly and, in the case of a negotiation, who doesn’t prefer to do business with a person you like, a friend, rather than someone other.
Small talk is not a waste of time: it establishes a good first impression and imbues a person with confidence. When you talk about movies, travel or the concert you attended last night, it shows you are a friendly person, one who is easy to talk to or converse with.
So, next time you negotiate a ten million dollar deal, make sure you look the person right in the eye (eye-contact is important) and say you murdered your grandmother last night. It is reported that President Franklin Roosevelt occasionally greeted a guest by saying that and the response was usually a polite nod of the head, until one person actually replied, “She probably had it coming to her!”
So, next time you are in an elevator, look around at all other passengers, speak up and say a big “Hello and good morning!”