I was headed for my standing appointment with my OB. Super exciting, I know. As I hopped in the elevator, two women joined me right before the doors slid shut. Cue the awkward silence, the nervous clearing of throats, and the eye-contact-avoidance-at-all-costs we all know so well.
As the ladies entered, I looked at them and smiled. They smiled back. “Whew, just made it in!” said Lady #1. I laughed and said “Those doors sure close fast, don’t they!? You have to be a sprinter to make it!”
The joking went back and forth for a few moments before the doors hissed open. “Have a great day!” I called as I exited, and a hearty “you too!” was delivered in return. With a smile, I strolled into the waiting room, ready to have my lady bits thoroughly examined. #ladylife
Now, I heard what you’re thinking. “Ok, cool story. But what does this have to do with me and my career?”
OMG, I’m so glad you asked.
Why The Elevator
When I was headed to the OB, I could have just kept to myself, silent in the elevator corner, then bolted as soon as the doors opened. Instead, I chose to step out of my own little world and engage with someone else.
Genuine human interaction is crucial to your career. You and your brand can’t thrive on your own, you need others to believe in you, champion you, and share it with everyone they know. Connecting with others is a skill worthy of daily practice, and the elevator created the perfect place for me to do it.
Here are a few reasons why you need to make the elevator your new BFF.
It’s a melting pot.
The elevator is one of the most interesting petri dishes of society. It puts you in contact with a huge variety of people, many of whom you’d never normally interact with.
What do the rich and poor, CEOs and interns, entrepreneur newbs and mega investors all have in common? They all ride elevators.
For a bizarrely magical minute in time, worlds collide in a peculiar metal box. It’s the best learning opportunity for human interaction ever, and you can harness that power into something that makes you (and your career) unstoppable.
As an entrepreneur, you need to boldly take risks, know who you are and what you have to offer. Your success requires you to build a tribe of people who champion you and your brand. The only way to do that is by building connections, and the only way to do that is by talking to people.
Being able to chat with new people in a relaxed, genuine way is the gateway to growing your tribe wherever you go.
You never know who you’ll wind up sitting (or standing) next to and what role they might play in your amazing story. Don’t miss out on it!
It’s the perfect place to practice.
When you’re working on a new skill, overthinking is your worst enemy, but the elevator provides a great antidote to that. Because you’re only in an elevator for a few moments, you don’t have time to think, you just have to go for it!
Use your elevator time to practice connecting with strangers. Conquering your fear of making the first move will not only give you killer confidence, it will score you a mega advantage over other connection-seekers. If you’re not afraid to initiate, you’ll quickly gather the big players into your circle while the timid wannapreneurs hang back and watch.
As soon as you (or they) enter the elevator, make your first move. The longer you wait the more awkward it becomes, so don’t wait!!
One of my favorite strategies to use is The Compliment Intro. It’s fantastic at breaking the ice and creating an instant “buddy zone” vibe. Using a compliment to spark a convo is one of the easiest and least threatening tricks. Who doesn’t like a compliment?!
“I really love your shoes! Where did you find them?”
“Your handbag is amazing, it looks like it would go with anything, does it?”
“I just have to ask: your hairdo is flawless, how do you do that?”
Once you’ve got their attention with your opener, do your best to engage them while putting them at ease. It doesn’t have to be more than a few comments back and forth (that’s all you have time for anyway).
When you praise someone, even for a small, seemingly inconsequential thing, the vibe becomes lighter and less intimidating. This fosters a connection that couldn’t have existed before, and if you get to that point, you’ve reached your goal. Plus, complimenting someone not only boosts their self esteem, it builds up your confidence at the same time! You become bolder and more sure of yourself, and that’s a win-win.
A compliment isn’t the only way to start a convo. Maybe you bond over both barely making it inside before the elevator doors closed. Maybe you make an observation about your mutual surroundings. Are you both are wearing skirts? Perfect time to say, “Skirt Day! Looks like we both got the memo! *laugh*”
There are a million ways to start an interaction, so don’t be afraid to try something that’s genuine to you. It doesn’t have to be complicated or scripted out, but interacting in and with your environment can be a powerful connector.
Yeah, it feels weird at first, but here’s why that shouldn’t freak you out…
It’s a zero-risk zone.
Here’s the thing. Practicing a new skill is always a little awkward because you’re not a pro yet. Don’t even stress about it – the elevator is the perfect place to try out your new moves!
The people who enter elevators are, for the most part, total strangers. 99% of the time, you’ll never see that person again in your life, so there’s no reason to sweat about practicing on them. If something doesn’t work or falls flat, let it go and try something new next time. Think of the elevator as your own personal laboratory.
Reminder: While it may not seem like it at first thought, often times it’s actually less awkward to acknowledge someone’s presence in some way than it is to just stand there silently.
A great skill to hone in the elevator is reading people’s body language. Pay attention to how people physically react when you try new things. When you say X, do they seem to react positively or negatively? How about when you say Y? Use that feedback to shape how you interact and what phrases or openers you try in the future. Don’t get discouraged though, it’s a learning process!
Being an entrepreneur is all about taking risks, but this is a perfect time to sharpen your skills without having to risk anything. Even if you do mess up, the doors will open and the person will leave, giving you a clean slate. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from growing and succeeding!
What have you got to lose? (Spoiler alert: Nothing.)
Your ability to form genuine relationships will make or break your career dreams, and being able to break the ice and connect with new people is the first step in sharpening that skill.
Regularly interacting with new people not only strengthens your relationship-building skills, it rapidly grows your network as well. As an entrepreneur, your brand depends on others championing and sharing your work, so solid connections are key players in your success story!
Using the elevator as a safe place to grow and learn will pay off big time. If you’re not afraid to approach people, make them feel valued and included, and confidently be yourself, there is literally nothing standing between you and success.
Save the workout for the gym. Embrace the elevator.
Hannah Brooks is a networking relationship coach and founder of The Leading Lady, empowering ambitious female entrepreneurs to grow killer networks and thriving careers through the power of genuine relationships. She’s also a laughter addict, foodie, and lover of community. In her spare time, she trots the globe with her husband and son, and has a slight obsession with chocolate milk.
Need more help harnessing the power of small talk? You can download her FREE 36-page guide: “The Female Entrepreneur’s Ultimate Guide to Small Talk” and start building genuine relationships, killer connections, and a thriving career!