Elevator Etiquette

Elevators can be the trickiest 30 seconds of social interaction. You’re trapped in a confined space with multiple strangers. There’s the challenge of personal space, tight maneuvers of entering and exiting and even the rare but dreaded stuck in the elevator scenario. In this month’s lesson we will discuss all etiquette questions surrounding riding the elevator.

Who enters first?

First off, as my father always liked to remind me growing up, you should always stand clear of the doors while waiting for the elevator. You want to allow room for people exiting. Even if the elevator is likely empty always stand to the side and check to see before getting in.

Now that we’ve assured you’re in the polite waiting position, who should enter first? Simply put, whoever is closest. There’s no need to hold things up by letting others go before you. Although a polite gesture is putting your hand over the door sensor so it doesn’t close on others coming in behind you. And.. if it’s obvious someone is rushing to catch the elevator be a dear and hold the door for them.

Who exits first?

Traditional etiquette states that men should allow women to exit first. This can still be a lovely gesture, but often times is unnecessary and even inconvenient. If a gentleman does hold the door and insinuate you exit first, do so and give your thanks. Nowadays however, whoever is closest to the exit should get off first. If there is someone with a stroller, wheelchair, or bulky items you can always offer to let them out first as long as space permits.

Where should I stand?

Upon entering the elevator, after you’ve pressed your button, move to the back away from the buttons to allow others getting on the chance to select their floor. If it’s crowded (but there’s still space) squeeze in where you can while trying to mind the personal space of others. Keep your arms, bags etc close to your body and try your best not to touch anyone. If you happen to be squeezed in near the buttons it’s polite to ask others which floor they’re going to, so you can press the button for them.

Is it ok to chat with friends/family?

If you’re riding the elevator with someone you know, you can chat a little, but if you do so keep your voices to a low level and be mindful that you’re not discussing anything too personal or provocative. If it’s on the crowded side I suggest not talking at all as if everyone did so it would become too loud. Personally, besides for a comment or two I like to remain quiet for the ride.

Is it ok to initiate conversation with strangers?

When it comes to chatting with strangers that’s another story. You can make a friendly comment about the weather or something neutral, or give a little greeting of hello, but anything more involved is best avoided. It’s not that it’s not lovely to be open and friendly, it is, but you never know where someone’s headspace is, where they’re going, if they’re in a rush.

For some people it takes energy to engage in small talk and can even spark some anxiety. If you get a positive smile back or they engage you in conversation feel free to respond. The point is not to forcefully put someone in the position of having to talk when they can’t escape. There’s also the awkward factor of time constraints.

Where should I look? 

This may be the most awkward bit about elevator rides. Where should you look? I say if there’s one or two people already inside you can give an acknowledgment, a friendly nod or smile, while getting in (if more people are present you can just slip on without any greeting). Besides that, it’s usually best to keep eye contact to a minimum. Eye contact is a typical lead to conversation and as we’ve discussed this too should be kept to a minimum. So unless you’re intentionally trying to connect with someone I would either look down at your shoes or handbag or select a point to focus on, maybe the elevator buttons or doors.

What should I avoid doing?

Think of an elevator ride as you would a trip to the library. It’s a place to be quiet, respectful, and distraction free. You wouldn’t pull out a stinky or messy snack, you would’t sit too close to someone when there’s available seating else wear, you wouldn’t play music or watch videos, and you wouldn’t make a cell phone call (if you’re on a call either wait until it’s finished before getting on or tell them you’ll call them back). The point is to be mindful of everyone around you and try your best not to disturb. If you’re questioning whether something may bothers others just don’t do it, it’s only a short ride afterall.

What to do if the elevator gets stuck?

First thing first, don’t panic. Even if you’re claustrophobic and have the completely crazy fear of plummeting to your death, freaking out is going to help no one, not even you. So if this scenario frightens you take a few slow deep breaths and remember this happens all the time without any tragic endings. There’s a big chance others could also be frightened so you don’t want to start a mass panic.

Regardless if you’re afraid or not you’ll want to refrain from making any comments or jokes about possible bad scenarios. just try your best to be positive, practical and calm. If you’re stuck for quite awhile it’s perfectly fine to sit down, you want to stay as comfortable as you can.

When should I avoid taking the elevator?

Unless you know the building is usually empty I would avoid taking the elevator if you’re not going more than two floors higher or lower. If stairs are easily accessible and of course as long you aren’t ill, have a physical condition or carrying bulky or heavy items, then try to walk instead. Particularly in a very high building, it’s annoying for someone to stop the flow in order to only go one or two floors.

You’ll also want to avoid getting on the elevator if it’s already overcrowded. This doesn’t mean you have to walk, but be patient and wait for the next one.

HOMEWORK: The next time you ride an elevator think about all these tips and ask yourself if you’re following them. Like anything else it’s about being aware of how you’re behaving and then making it a habit. If you have anymore elevator questions the I missed, let me know in the comments!

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