elevate your opportunities.

  • career advice
  • July 11, 2018

Every professional path, from the C-suite on down, begins in the same place: the elevator. So why not use it as an opportunity to make your name ring bells — or, at least, go "ding"?

Instead of anxiously idling, you can increase your visibility, open up exciting professional opportunities — even ascend all the way to the top of the company. Here are simple tips to help you take advantage of time spent literally rubbing elbows with colleagues, managers and other higher-ups on the org chart.

get inspired

Ever heard the story of Jim Ziemer? Way before Ziemer was president and CEO of Harley-Davidson, he began his career with the company in 1969 as a freight elevator operator. That's right, going up and down all day. Did all those rides prepare him for a leadership role? Absolutely — well, that and the accounting degree he simultaneously pursued at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Either way, he rode all the way to the top, and so can you. It all starts with the elevator.

hone your elevator pitch

Picture the following scenario: It's morning, you're early to work and get on the elevator alone on the ground floor. Just as the doors begin to close, you see that your manager is approaching in a hurry — so of course, you thrust your arm out to reopen the doors, and your manager, after saying "thank you," gets on. This scenario represents a great opportunity.

Especially as annual performance reviews become less popular — one Randstad study showed that Gen Z and millennials are receiving feedback either daily (19%) or weekly (24%), instead of annually (3%) — the ability to interact with managers in a casual setting is an important skill set. These relationships are critical both in terms of performance management and career development, so you want to make the most of every opportunity to strengthen them.

But what should you say?

Don't go for a "safe" or neutral — that is to say, boring — topic like the weather. Instead, the best approach is to report on a recent success or express your interest or curiosity about work-related events or initiatives. For example: "I wanted to get back to you about the project my team and I are working on. It's going really well and we're seeing promising results." Or: "In your recent speech to the company, you mentioned a shift in strategy — and I'm curious to see what impact it will have on my division."

Statements like these signal to the manager that you're not only dedicated to your job but also thinking critically, strategically and holistically about the bigger picture — and that's a sure sign of value.

up your likeability

In elevators as in life, people who project optimism and confidence are generally well liked. But if that doesn't come naturally to you, applying the following two concepts just might help you out.

The first is the expressivity halo. Sometimes summarized as the “what is expressive is good” principle, the expressivity halo refers to the scientifically verified phenomenon that we tend to respond positively to people who use animated expressions and very clearly telegraph their emotions. Many different causes for this phenomenon have been proposed, but perhaps the most plausible is that it simply requires more mental horsepower to process difficult-to-interpret or conflicting facial expressions, and so we prefer it when intent is obvious.

The second is the Duchenne smile. Named after French anatomist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne — the first scientist to study the smile — a Duchenne smile requires both voluntary and involuntary contraction from two muscles: the zygomatic major raises the corners of the mouth, while the orbicularis oculi muscle raises the cheeks to form crow's feet around the eyes. It's often described as "smiling with your eyes."

If all of that sounds complicated, don't worry. You've probably unleashed a thousand Duchenne smiles in your day during moments of genuine joy without even thinking about it. And since studies have linked the ability to flash a Duchenne smile with greater longevity, higher levels of happiness, better relationships and fewer personal setbacks, why not practice yours? Those elevator mirrors are there for a reason.

Make the expressivity halo part of your communication strategy, combine it with your gleaming Duchenne smile, and soon you'll be getting out at the penthouse.

a few etiquette dos and don'ts

Close physical proximity is the hallmark of the elevator experience, which is why buffing up on basic elevator etiquette may help put your mind at ease. Follow these dos and don'ts, and you'll never be in the wrong.

Do:

  • Be courteous. Press the door-open button if you see someone approaching the elevator. 
  • If you're on a crowded elevator, fully exit the elevator — even though it's not your floor — so the people behind you can get off easily. 
  • Give others as wide a berth as possible in the elevator, and adjust your stance and position to accommodate new riders when they enter the elevator.

Don’t:

  • It's fine to talk on your cell phone if you're alone — but if you're not, you should make a conscientious effort to lower your voice. 
  • While the walls of many elevators are mirrored, this is not the place for serious grooming or primping. If you're having a bad hair day at work, the bathroom will simply have to do as a beauty salon.

Armed with these insights, you should be ready to climb to new career heights.