The rules of elevator riding: Get in, face forward, don’t speak except to ask someone to push a button, and please control all bodily noises and smells.
The no-speaking rule changes if you are talking with someone who you already know or with whom you were speaking before you got in the elevator. Yes, the famed elevator pitch breaks the rules unless you were introduced before.
An adult male recruiter got in an elevator with a teenage boy (estimated age 14-15) and asked him to push the button for his floor, which the boy did. (The recruiter posted on LinkedIn but took it down after it became controversial, so I agreed not to name him.)
According to my self-proclaimed rules, that is where the conversation should have ended. But it didn’t. The recruiter asked him how his morning was going, to which the boy, head down, muttered, “good.”
This should have been a clear signal to the adult that this person did not wish to engage with him and should have been the end. Instead, the recruiter tried once more (“Have a nice day,” to which the boy replied with a quiet “thanks.”) and then came to the wrong conclusion.
He noted the boy never made eye contact and concluded, “I don’t know this kid’s story, but please stop telling me that getting A’s in biology, geometry, and world history is how we measure success for kids.”
I agree with him: Grades are not everything. But that’s pretty much the only thing I agree with. Here’s why.
No one owes you a conversation.
Society pressures people to consider speaking when spoken to as polite. And if this boy had been the receptionist at the dentist’s office and Mr. Recruiter had come in for a filling, his behavior would have been rude and indicative that he was not the right fit for the job. But this teenager wasn’t working, and he had no obligation to speak to anyone.
I understand the recruiter. I’m a talker, and if anyone indicates that they might say hi to me, I’m likely to tell them my whole life’s history. (Which, incidentally, would make me a terrible receptionist as well. Client: “I have a 2:00 pm appointment for a filling.” Me: “Oh my word, I have so many fillings! See, when I was a kid, we didn’t live in a place with fluoridated water, and as a result, my teeth…”)
But, being trapped in an elevator doesn’t create an obligation to respond to a stranger. The teenager met all social obligations by pushing the button, considering he was (presumably) closer to the controls.
You can’t judge a book or a person by its cover.
Was this a 14-15-year-old boy, or was he 10? I ask because I have a 14-year-old boy who is 6’5″, and people have been overestimating his age since birth when he came home from the hospital in size three-month clothing. The boy could have been much younger. Or he could have been 23. It’s tough to tell from an elevator encounter.
You’re seeing a snapshot of a person, and making judgments about his knowledge, skills, and abilities is inappropriate.
This doesn’t just go for adults judging children–it applies to all adults judging other adults. You may not think you judge people based on appearance or 30-second encounters, but we make decisions based on brief glimpses all the time. Which line do you go through at the supermarket if they are all the same length? Do you look at the people and the groceries? You probably do.
In some cultures, people talk to strangers. In others, it’s considered incredibly intrusive to strike up a conversation. Just looking at someone doesn’t tell you the culture they come from.
And culture isn’t the only thing that makes us different. Maybe this young man was shy or, non-neurotypical. Or maybe he was under strict orders from his helicopter mother to not speak to strangers or just flat out didn’t see a need to talk to a stranger in the elevator. Who knows? It’s not enough information to make any judgment.
It could be culture, or temperment or just a bad day. It’s super hard to change your culture for a quick conversation, and since it’s not necessary, you need to let this go.
People get to set their boundaries.
As a general rule, the only people bothered by boundaries are people who like pushing boundaries. The young man made it clear that he didn’t wish to engage in a conversation, and the recruiter should have stopped trying.
A stranger in an elevator isn’t a therapy session where you try to make someone come out of their shell. If someone isn’t enthusiastic about responding to your initial inquiry, it’s time to shut your mouth or wait for the next target to get on the elevator.
If this young man should show up for a job interview with this recruiter, the recruiter should forget everything about this previous encounter unless it directly relates to the position. Most jobs don’t require you to be chatty with strangers, and you shouldn’t hold that against people.
And if you want to chat in an elevator, look for me. I’m just dying to tell people about my latest project.
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