Shatter the Norm

By Clyde C. Lowstuter

Ever been in an elevator filled with strangers and it was silent for the entire duration of your trip?

  • What did you do? Did you comply with the norm?Elevator Buttons
  • How did you behave – just like the rest, or did you break out of the norm?
  • Did you behave on automatic pilot and join the elevator crowd in silence?

It’s been my experience that 99% of the time people ignore others in the elevator; they stare at the door or the lights indicating floors. It’s not that people are unfriendly, self-absorbed, or distant – rather the behavioral norm is that people do not initiate conversations in such an enclosure where your personal space is routinely violated.

Earlier this week I was in such a crowded elevator and found myself looking at the backs of my fellow passengers. I began to reflect on how powerful behavioral norms are . . . and I decided to test the elevator standard.

I blurted in a firm voice, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but while 15 degrees is still cold it is much better than minus 15 degrees.  Can I get an ‘amen’ to that?”  To a person, everyone laughed and declared their amens.  I asked, “How many of you had a disaster happen or got stranded somewhere last week?”  A few people gave a 15-second account of burst pipes, missed work because cars wouldn’t start, or kids not in school.  In the 3-4 minutes of conversation my elevator compatriots connected.  At their respective floors, those that remained and those that exited wished others good luck and best wishes for a great day.

Next time you’re in an elevator, blurt a conversational starter.  Perhaps something like, “I’m having a terrific day today, how about the rest of you?”

As a senior executive, how often do you operate on automatic, looking at things through the same lens or responding in a similar manner as you have always done?

What behavioral norms do you follow and perhaps even perpetuate in your organization that limit innovation and courageous action?   

What might be some viable alternatives to these embedded beliefs that might contribute to your organization’s overall effectiveness?

Here’s to shattering the norm!

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Thank you Clyde. This is a good lesson to keep in mind. Generally people are friendly and responsive. All that is needed is a catalyst.
    As far as the organization, sharing a bit of oneself increases peoples’ sense of belonging. Results follow!

  2. Thanks for posting! Great thought to ponder.

  3. Thank you all for your comments. I believe that leaders do not lose any power or influence when they are transparent and risk engaging with others in an open and genuine manner. If we are asking our colleagues to be vulnerable and risk-oriented, how can we not be first to do so. Warm regards – Clyde

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