Monday, November 22, 2004

Elevator Music

This morning, for about the one-billionth time this month, it occurred to your host, El Jefe Maximo, that people are verrry complicated.

The occasion for this thought was the elevator in El Jefe’s office building. Ever watched your fellow passengers in an elevator ? Of course you have, although it’s Bad Form to be caught doing it, (and like Captain Hook, El Jefe believes that Bad Form must be avoided above all things). However, in the building known by all Right-Thinking-People as the El Jefe Tower, (where, when he is not busy determining the destinies of men and nations, or otherwise making trouble, El Jefe goes for his day job), luck and good interior design are with the covert people-watcher, because the elevators walls are composed of some reflective substance that basically serves as a mirror. So one can observe without seeming to observe…

The Behavioral Scientists and other people who study what makes humans tick say that much if not most human communication is non-verbal. To El Jefe, this is why elevator rides are sometimes interesting. The passengers on an elevator are usually strangers or near-strangers forced into close proximity, and they are constantly communicating even when nothing is verbalized. Like all human activities, there are unwritten protocols for Big Building Elevator Riding. El Jefe guarantees that in some university someplace, there’s a doctorial thesis being written, or which has been written, involving Human Behavior and Interaction in Elevators.

Usually, persons who do not know each other do not converse, verbally at least, much in the mornings, although the rules are more relaxed in the afternoons. Probably the most important rules involve allocation of personal space. Very bad form to stand too close to the other riders. When a new person enters, without anything being said, all passengers carefully reposition. Similarly, when a person exits, the remaining riders adjust positions again. Of course, all of this is blindingly obvious, duh level stuff (these behaviors have been learned since childhood), but never consciously thought of. If human-looking Martians arrived, however, this would all probably drive them wacko.

The most diverting feature of Big Building Elevator Riding is figuring out Who’s Leaving Next. Play this game sometime. Without anything being said, when the elevator is closing in on its next stop, one can always tell who is next to leave. The departing rider almost invariably gives a non-verbal clue: eye movements, a minute shifting of the passenger’s briefcase, coffee cup or newspaper, a hand or head movement, shuffling of a foot, whatever. Of course, there are exceptions, and El Jefe finds such persons, who have superhuman control over their body language, most interesting of all. El Jefe should never like to play poker with them !

El Jefe’s point (and he does have one), is that body language and non-verbal cues very much operate even in something so casual as riding an elevator between floors in a building. How much smarter, more insightful and probably happier we would all be if we knew how to read these clues in other situations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

El Jefe this is one of your BEST!