Modern Etiquette: Doors, Elevators, and Escalators

Mon May 19, 2014 4:00am EDT

(Reuters) - Earlier today I nearly got flattened by someone getting on the elevator car I was trying to leave. Ouch.

Knocking heads with a total stranger is an awkward conversation starter at best. Thus, it is time to review the mindset and mechanics of doors, elevators, and escalators. Here goes:

Unless you were hired as a doorman, there’s no need to hold the door for everyone in sight. If you see someone coming along with arms filled with packages, files, or whatever, by all means open a door for him or her. And of course, if someone on crutches or in a wheelchair, help out.

Remember the basic rule – whoever needs the help, gets the help, regardless of gender. Most of us can open our own doors. However, if you are with a senior executive or honored guest, it’s best to let that person reach the door and go ahead of you.

Elevators magnify the pressures of limited space. If you’re among the first to enter on the ground floor and will be getting off at one of the lower floors, stand in the corner near the door and let others fill in the space behind you.

If you’re in the front and are getting off at a higher floor, step out at intervening stops, hold your hand on the door to prevent it from closing, and reboard after others have gotten off.

If you’re at the control panel, press the hold button to keep the doors open until everyone is aboard; then ask people to call out their floors so that you can press the floor buttons for them.

Once inside, don’t remove hats, coats, or gloves; you may bump others or cause them to think you will. Mind that you don’t whack others with your backpack, tote, or yoga bag.

Make eye contact, smile, and say hello if you want to. Think twice before engaging in conversation; you never know who's listening.

"KEEP MOVING"

The escalator mantra is “keep moving.” Look where you’re stepping when you get on, so you have sure footing. Stick to the right and hold on to the rails so that passengers in a hurry can get around you on the left.

Here again, don’t engage in conversation with the person on the step above or below you. Sound carries, and you never know who might hear your opinions of office issues, or worse, people.

Once you reach the top, move quickly out of the way to avoid a pileup of passengers behind you. The escalator is no place to daydream.

Most important, remember that “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” are gender neutral and always appropriate, regardless of your place in your organization’s pecking order.

In fact, the higher up the ladder you are, the better your manners should be. How else will anybody learn from you?

(Mary M. Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, now in 11 languages, most recently "The Complete Idiot's Guide to ModernManners Fast Track" and "Woofs to the Wise". She is the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization (www.themitchellorganization.com). The opinions expressed are her own.)

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(Editing by Michael Roddy)