Among the day-to-day hustle of office life, you are bound to take an elevator ride or few. While riding the elevators isn’t an adventure in itself, the people we encounter on these rides can make the ride a wild one, or at least provide fodder for water cooler chat. When working in a smaller office environment, chances are good that you are familiar with all of the characters you run into on your rides. However, for those of us who work in a huge office building or larger companies, taking the elevator can be as novel an experience as hitting up a new restaurant for lunch (“Who was that? I’ve never seen her before. What floor does she work on?”).

Exploring the different flavors of folks you could encounter on an elevator can add value in multiple ways, from helping you build a bridge for a new workplace alliance to taking advantage of a teachable moment to helping a more green colleague navigate the building, to seizing a networking opportunity, to igniting the flame for a workplace romance. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of people you will encounter in an office elevator:

1. The New Guy

All bright eyed and bushy tailed, you can spot the new guy by the look of wide eyed wonder on his face. His temporary badge may be a tell, or he may have a printout with directions to help him navigate his first day on the job. You’ve never seen him before, and he’s getting off on the same floor as you. He’s not afraid to make direct eye contact—as a matter of fact, he relishes it in the hopes that you’ll ask, “Is this your first day?”, which could at least lead to a friendly conversation and at most lead to an exchange of contact info that will get him a spot on the office’s flag football team.

His energy is overall very positive, and an air of naivete is not uncommon. Overall, his nervous energy is tempered by the boost of confidence he received when he was offered the position.

Recommendation: Depending on your mood, meet his gaze, share a friendly nod and ask the question “Is this your first day?” Allow him to lead the conversation. If you’re in a senior position, pay it forward by offering words of encouragement. If you’re a peer, offer to show him around or give some insider info about which money-eating vending machines to avoid. This elevator encounter could make his first day!

people in elevator illustration
For those of us who work in a huge office building or larger companies, taking the elevator can be as novel an experience.

2. The Friendly Exec

Suited up and familiar (after all, everyone recognizes the CEO), he is stern yet approachable. In the elevator, he may ask “What floor?” or at least offer a friendly nod when you enter. If he’s a direct superior, a question about how things are going in your department or on your project is not uncommon. His is the door “that’s always open”, and he’s not afraid to show solidarity by showing up at the office party. He was “once where you are” and doesn’t view himself as better than anyone else. He cherishes his role as a leader and doesn’t lord his power over the heads of those who report to him.

Recommendation: Always speak and respond when spoken to; you never know how or when recognition by him could work in your favor. If you’re ambitious, take this elevator opportunity to highlight some of your key accomplishments or major goals. Don’t be afraid to highlight a point of common interest (“Hey, I graduated from Wharton too!”), after all, he likes to emphasize that he’s “one of us”. A note of caution though, keep it friendly but professional – he is not your peer; and oversharing, violating physical space (no slaps on the back!), vulgarity or other behavior you wouldn’t exhibit with a member of senior leadership should be avoided, no matter how chummy he seems. After all, he’s still the boss.

3. The Unfriendly Exec

Unlike the above scenario, this guy is strictly business. His forward gaze is broken only by intermittent glances at his watch or calendar. The guy may even continue a phone call throughout the duration of the ride – after all, he’s in charge and the work doesn’t stop. He may nod in acknowledgment if your eyes meet, or he may not. Probably, he is not trying to converse and wants off the elevator as quickly as possible (he’s claustrophobic and in a hurry).

Recommendation: This is not the guy to make small talk with. Enjoy the elevator ride for a what it is – a vehicle to get you from one floor to the next, nothing more and nothing less. The ambitious employee may try to break the ice and insert a quick pitch or meeting request. Chances are, this won’t be appreciated, as he values formality and protocol and will not appreciate what feels like an ambush or an opportunistic confrontation. Make an appointment for later and enjoy the ride.

4. The New Graduate

He’s usually younger, checking social media, or texting mom. He may be interning, or this may be his first paying gig. The nervous energy of his first day may be tempered with quiet confidence if he’s been taught to “fake it till you make it” and has read the latest self-help bible. If he hasn’t, he may be obviously anxious and unsure of himself as he moves into this next phase of his life. Though he’s on his p’s and q’s, he may not be dressed appropriately. Don’t be surprised if he asks a sincere question to help him navigate his first day.

Recommendation: Send good vibes his way. After all, you were once in his shoes. Answer any questions that are directed to you, and if you feel compelled to offer a few pointers, go for it! You never know if the two of you will cross paths again or even work together if it’s a smaller organization.

5. The Nervous Job Candidate

Folio, resumes, cover letters in hand and dressed in his best suit, he is here for a job and is on his best behavior. Depending on what level position he’s interviewing for, he may be reserved and serious or friendly and approachable, meeting everyone’s gaze with a smile (after all, could be working with you some day). If he’s a new graduate (see above), he might be fidgety, possibly tapping his foot along with the rhythm of the elevator’s vertical dance, staring at the illuminated numbers as his floor approaches. “Wait, is this the right floor? Oh gosh, I’m going to be late! What was that recruiter’s name again?”

Recommendation: This is usually not the time for talking, as he’s got his game face on and is rehearsing his responses and company information before his big moment. Send good vibes his way silently. After all, maybe you’ll see him again, maybe you won’t.

various people in office
Who was that? I’ve never seen her before. What floor does she work on?

6. The Obnoxious Delivery Guy

He’s taking up half the elevator with his bicycle and food bags. The smell of his delivery is wafting through the elevators, and music is blaring from the headphones he uses to keep himself energized on the go. Though he’s not an employee of the company, you may run into him on a regular basis, as delivery routes don’t change much; therefore, the development of a first-name rapport is not uncommon.

Recommendations: You might wait for the next elevator if you’re not in the mood to walk into your meeting smelling like curry chicken or grease. If you’re not in the mood to overhear the Smells Like Teen Spirit blaring from his headphones or play footsie with his bike tires, you may entertain the idea of taking the stairs. Or you can take advantage of this opportunity to ask all the questions people think about but never ask of delivery guys like, “How you do you stay balanced with all those pizzas on the back of the bike? Have you ever taken someone the wrong sandwich?”

7. The Eager Beaver

They are pushing the buttons furiously, as if the more often they bang the button, the quicker the elevator will arrive and drop them off. Maybe they have to take a trip to the restroom? Maybe they’re late for their next meeting? Whatever the situation, they’re a toe tap away from your last nerve. You may be tempted to offer a sarcastic “In a hurry?” to temper the awkwardness of the occasion. You may be thankful for their eagerness if you’re in a rush yourself.

Recommendations: We’ve all been this guy at some point. Their moment will soon be over and so will this elevator ride, so be careful not to push their buttons while they’re pushing the elevator’s.

8. The Ignorer

No eye contact, no expression, no small talk. Maybe you’ve seen this person before, maybe you haven’t. Regardless, they view the elevators as a place of complete silence and see no need for niceties in this environment.

Recommendation: Let well enough alone. They are focused for a reason—maybe they had a trying meeting, maybe they’re struggling in their job overall, or maybe they received distressing personal news. If you run into them again and discover this is just their MO, you may be able to break the ice then.

9. The Chatterbox

If they’re not chatting away on their phone, sharing the details of last night’s happy hour with everyone within earshot, they’re chatting it up with you in complete sentences: “Hello my name is… What department do you work in? Do you like it here?” Though the elevators are not generally the place for full blown conversations, this guy is not afraid to keep the conversation going.

Recommendations: Go with it, unless you don’t mind coming off as rude and shutting the conversation down completely. You can help steer the conversation in a shorter direction by giving simple responses. Depending on who the chatterbox is, you may want to lay into the conversation a bit and show off what a great conversationalist you are.

10. The Bag Lady

A purse, a lunchbox, laptop case, bookbag, shopping bag… This person’s appearance begs the question, are you going to work or making deliveries? This is the coworker whose cubicle/office/desk is his personal closet. He’s got everything from a change of shirts to a sandwich to a First Aid kit. He keeps extras of everything and is always prepared. He may or may not be taking up a lot of space, depending on the size of those bags. Either way, it’s a bizarre sight, and you wonder how does his back handle it all?

Recommendation: You may offer to help carry something, but chances are he’s used to carrying a heavy load and won’t accept any assistance. After all, this is how he keeps himself organized.

various people portraits
Exploring the different flavors of folks you could encounter on an elevator can add value in multiple ways.

11. The Hot Mess

Falling apart, dropping stuff, can’t remember what floor to get off on…he’s the scattered coworker whose desk is a mess and who can’t remember what day it is. He may offer up random conversation to pass the time or make awkward statements that belie his all-over-the place nature. If he’s in senior leadership, it’s not unlikely that his messiness has caught the attention of everyone in the office. Either way, his type is the one that thrives in the midst of “controlled chaos”. This elevator ride will be short and to-the-point.

Recommendation: When he drops his pen or his ID badge, pick it up and hand it to him. He’s always rushing somewhere, barely making it on time, so now is not the time to strike up a conversation. If you catch him on an off day – which for him, means a day when it appears things are running smoothly and calmly – you may be tempted to offer your impeccable organizing skills to help him get himself together.

12. The Cryer

Meeting this character on the elevators is rare, but it happens. This person is crying, and it may range from a slight whimper to a lone tear to a muffled sob to a full-on breakdown. A lot of things happen in office environments: bullying, demotions, coworker drama, romantic scandals, failed business dealings, bad personal news… Though running into this person is alarming, unfortunately, there is not much you can do in the moment. Depending on your personality, you may offer consolation, tissue, or an encouraging word.

Recommendation: This person is likely embarrassed and doesn’t want to be confronted about his tears. Whatever you do, don’t ask “Are you ok?” However, well-intentioned, the answer is an obvious no! He’s already embarrassed enough to be crying in a professional environment and whatever the situation is, it’s serious enough that he couldn’t wait to get to a more private place to let his emotions out. Or maybe he was counting on the elevator ride being his safe space where he could get a good cry in. Unless you can help, ignore and wish him the best.

13. The Normal Guy

This is the guy you want to be! Riding the elevator, displaying normal body language, respecting the personal space of others, maintaining a friendly demeanor, and keeping communication short and simple is what this guy does. While he may encounter various personalities, he is stable and a pleasure to catch a ride with. You’ll have to get to know this guy using more traditional methods, i.e., lunch dates, email, or around the office water fountain.

Recommendation: Don’t do too much lest you be typecast as one of the undesirable “types”. If you’re this guy more often than not, you’ll recognize a kindred spirit and be able to share knowing glances when one of the other types gets on to liven up an otherwise simple ride.