Why is there an uncomfortable silence in elevators

The Coburg linguist Katja Kessel wrote a dissertation on the "art of small talk". To this end, she examined 23 German and American guidebooks, including historical ones. A conversation about rituals, empty phrases and social lousing.

SZ: Ms. Kessel, why are we talking such nonsense in the elevator?

Katja Kessel: Elevators are simply a special situation. Even the physical distance often does not fit. One is forced into this tightness and feels a pressure to somehow have to fill the silence. Elevator drivers suddenly feel it is their duty to establish social interaction. That's unconfortable.

Are there social rules, who has to start the chatter?

No. If only because there are differences: There are people who can stand the silence. Others not at all. They usually start small talk because they have the feeling: But that's pretty oppressive here right now.

So let's start chatting quickly.

You know, the small talk is a non-hierarchical conversation. That means: Everyone can start with it. Whereby it becomes difficult in situations where there is a supervisor and an employee. You have to sound out with an understanding of human nature whether it is acceptable to just start the conversation with the boss now.

Ah. So theoretically no hierarchy, but in practice it is better not to address the editor-in-chief from the side.

Just like that. First of all, the so-called harmony principle applies in the elevator.

The principle of harmony?

Yes, one must first try to carefully survey the situation. If possible, say something interesting. It just can't be stressful right away.

But the unpleasant thing is: if there are halfway intelligent people standing together, everyone can see through the need.

Clear. And that's why this form of conversation is so ritualized and everyone knows it. Everyone knows: Aha, something nice is said here, for example, even if it may not be meant that way. Part of it. It's not about exchanging content at all, just about: So, I've registered and I'm not grim. This works with empty phrases.

Talking about empty phrases is one of the worst intellectual accusations that can be made against anyone.

Nice. But in an emergency, you just use the template, with which you can relieve yourself. Before thinking about "Oh God, what am I saying now?" desperate. What is said is not important. It is important that what is said. This is called phatic communication.


Empty, as it were. Does the person know after the marital quarrel. There is silence. And then you have to say something, pretty much no matter what. Just come back to communication.