The elevator silence: Let’s talk!

Worth knowing | Two out of three people won’t speak in a lift – what's the reason for this silence? We have all the answers. And we will tell you why the elevator is the perfect stage for small talk.

Nature has created humans to be social beings. That’s why there is one social practice that we have perfected – small talk. Whether at the post office, in the tram, at the hairdresser or in the office, chatting makes the world go round. But it all changes when we go up and down. Because there is only one place where we have taken an enigmatic vow of silence: inside elevators.

For 66 percent of us, one thing above all applies in elevators: to keep quiet, look away and not stand out.For 66 percent of us, one thing above all applies in elevators: keep quiet, look away and don’t stand out.

An awkward silence

The silence in the elevator is a strange phenomenon which has recently been statistically proven: two thirds of all elevator passengers are silent as soon as the doors close behind them. This is confirmed by a recent survey, run in partnership with the institute YouGov and conducted by our elevator experts at thyssenkrupp. With seven billion journeys a day worldwide, this is a rather sad rate. And reason enough to encourage small talk on the international “Talk in an elevator day”.

The survey immediately raised one question in our editorial team: Why do we change our behavior so drastically as soon as we move between floors? Although 23 percent of the participants in our survey state that they prefer to stay silent in the elevator because they generally do not like talking to strangers, many go even further: 17 percent of those surveyed even admit that they avoid sharing an elevator with someone they don’t like under any circumstances.

Shame, instinct and discomfort: what science says

According to psychologist Dr. Thomas Herzog, the phenomenon of uneasy silence has something to do with our feelings of shame. The expert told the newspaper “WELT” that sees the concrete reasons primarily in our fear of social rejection, criticism of the (un-)said and a lack of self-confidence. So above all, the phenomenon of falling silent in the elevator or even waiting for the next one is a protective reflex. In case of doubt, our ego chooses the more socially secure option – silence.

According to science, the uncomfortable feeling and occasional loss of our own voice in the elevator, however, has many other social backgrounds. While anthropologist Adward T. Hall suspected a connection to the violation of our very personal distance zones, social psychologist Solomon Asch described in a video experiment that elevator passengers follow the group instinct and do what everyone else does when in doubt, which is to collectively remain silent and stare nervously at the floor or wall.

In 1999, sociologist Stefan Hirschauer made use of the term “civil inattention”, which works well in everyday life, but quickly turns into discomfort in the elevator’s two-square-meters cabin. Cognition expert Rebekah Rousi, on the other hand, recently discovered that women usually gaze at the floor when they are silent in the elevator, while men are under the spell of the display.

Beyoncé beats Donald

Fortunately, our study also shows the good sides of an elevator ride. For example, 28 percent of the interviewees feel irritated if there isn’t an elevator in a building with more than two floors – a feeling felt most strongly by people over the age of 55 years old. This shows the valued role of elevators in what they do best: getting us from A to B quickly and safely.

 real eye-catcher of the elevator's interior: the control panelA real eye-catcher of the elevator’s interior: the control panel

We also found out that singer Beyoncé was the favorite to be stuck in an elevator with – in the rare case of such a meeting ever occurring. Politicians like Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump are not so popular as cabin mates: around a third of those questioned stated that the two statesmen would be their least favorite people to be stuck in an elevator with.

Saying goodbye to elevator taboos!

We now know that the inside of an elevator reveals our deepest primal instincts. But why should we, as free-thinking people, pass a nice chat because of this? After all, today’s “Talk in an Elevator day” is the perfect occasion to break the anxious silence in the elevator. Be it the nice compliment for the colleague, the short chat about the weekend, the little flirt or the witty saying which conjures a smile on the lips of the passengers – you never know what can happen in tight spaces.

After all, being open to the wonders of human interaction is not so difficult. Even in an elevator. Just have some courage!


  • written by Robert
  • 10. August 2018

For the majority of Americans, Donald wouldn’t be bad at all. But, Kim Jong-Un or Hillary or Bill Clinton would be avoided at all costs!


  • written by Deborah
  • 11. August 2018

I always talk when riding in an elevator and my favorite question is “where are you from?”

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