Six ways to avoid another awkward ride.
The earliest recorded instance of an elevator is dated around 236 B.C., though modern iterations didn’t show up until the Industrial Era. Still, that means for a large portion of human history, we’ve had to negotiate the ins and outs of elevator etiquette.
You’d think, based on all that practice, that we’d be better at it.
And yet every day in cities across the country, people attempt to jostle aboard before the car has emptied, try to strike up uncomfortable conversations, and refuse to recognize others’ personal space.
We can do better, riders. We just need to follow these rules.
Act like an adult human
Four basic principles of politeness come into play here:
- Regardless of how long you’ve been waiting, allow all of the people on the elevator to exit before rushing the doors.
- The people on the elevator are responsible for deboarding as quickly as possible.
- Once all riders are aboard, everyone faces forward.
- Be kind and be patient.
The first and second of these rules are essential. It’s extremely rude to try to board an elevator when someone else is trying to get off, but it’s also pretty unfortunate when someone exits too slowly or pauses in the doorway, or lurks in the corner of the car until the last minute. Look, here are some animated graphics to show you how this all works.
The third is slightly more flexible; If you’re chatting with a friend, you can obviously angle your body. But standing facing everyone else in the elevator is just odd. Don’t do this thing.
The fourth is a little squishier, but still deeply important. Even when you’re in a big hurry, remember that not everyone who’s getting on and off may be able to move with the speed and swiftness you’d like. This is especially true for people who may not able-bodied folks. So if at all possible, be courteous of others.
Then there are some other, less hard-and-fast rules. For example, it’s widely believed to be the responsibility of the person closest to the buttons to ask after the floors of the others onboard, though it’s certainly not always required. It’s also polite to move your backpack to your front, so you’re more in control of the space it takes up. And if you see an elevator that’s getting crowded (the golden number is six or seven, depending on the size of the car), just wait for the next one.
Keep your jokes to yourself
Remember that episode of30 Rock where Kenneth was the funny guy in the elevator? And everyone laughed and laughed as he made jokes (“What is this, the local?”) and sang songs? Yeah, that was a TV show. No one likes an elevator comedian. If you’ve got a handful of elevator-related humor up your sleeve, maybe just keep it there. Odds are, everyone’s already heard your puns and one-liners about elevators—there aren’t that many of them.
Come prepared with light talking points
If you must talk in the elevator (because you’re not the kind of person who can handle 53 seconds of silence, or because another rider insisted on starting a conversation), be prepared with some easy general-interest subjects that are not the weather.
Safe bets: Local sports, non-political area news, inoffensive workplace chatter, or something about your apartment building. This is especially true if you’re riding an elevator with your neighbors—you live in the same building, so it’s nice to have some common ground, even if it’s some light griping about the perpetually-leaky laundry room roof.
Don’t actually try out your elevator pitch (or air your grievances)
If it’s especially hard to get a moment of undivided attention from your boss, those few minutes in the elevator can be extremely tempting—after all, they call it an elevator pitch for a reason, right?
Nope. If you ambush your supervisor with an idea—or a complaint, or a piece of gossip—the chance that she’ll actually listen, remember, and follow-up is extremely slim. Just because you have her ear in the elevator does not mean you have her attention.
Instead, save your big ideas (or big axes to grind) for an email or an official meeting and keep your elevator banter light and social. If she remembers you as being a pleasant person, she’s more likely to make time for you later.
Humor the person who is making it weird
You’re not always the most awkward person in the elevator—but if you don’t roll with Mr. Bad Jokes, you run the risk of making it worse. Instead of crossing your arms and eye-rolling when someone else breaks one of these sacred-ish rules, try to cut the tension by providing at least a courtesy laugh, much as it may pain you. You may not be able to make the situation better, but you can definitely make it not-worse.
Remember that everyone is captive
The single most ruthlessly uncomfortable aspect of elevator rides is that there is nowhere to escape. Bad breath, bad jokes, and bad attitudes are all amplified in spaces where people are trapped with no means for relief until the car mercifully reaches their floor.
Repeat this manta as your guiding light for elevator etiquette: No one particularly wants to be here, and it’ll all be over soon. Whatever it is that you’re considering saying or doing, just ask yourself, “Self, would I do or say this thing in an instance when someone could not walk away if it gets weird?”
If the answer is “no, probably not,” just wait it out until the bell dings and you can finally step off unscathed.