Q. A male co-worker and I often take the stairs at work rather than the elevator. It's usually not crowded and we walk side-by-side. We wondered what the correct etiquette would be if someone needed to pass us (going up or down) on the stairs. Should he rush ahead of me to let the person pass? Or should he fall behind me allowing the person to pass?
C. L., Anaheim, CA
A. Your dilemma can be solved by considering your possible actions and then choosing the one that works best for everyone. Generally, stairways are like traffic lanes: keep right except to pass. Presuming that you are on the railing or wall side and your co-worker is in the middle, he has three options.
Option 1: He can hold his position and make the on-coming person dodge him. This choice can appear confrontational on his part and doesn't solve the problem. So let's discard it.
Option 2: Your co-worker can quickly step in front of you to make room for the person to pass. This gives the on-coming person a clear path, but doesn't work well for you and your co-worker as his sudden step forward could cause him to bump into you. The only way this option works is if you simultaneously slow down to let him step in front of you, a maneuver requiring the two of you to act in tandem. Too complicated.
Option 3: Your co-worker can slow down, step behind you and allow the other person to pass. You don't have to do a thing and the problem is solved. By the way, this isn't a gender issue. Take the same action if you're the one walking in the middle of the stairway.
Etiquette really isn't about rules; it's about using common sense coupled with applying consideration, respect and honesty to resolve a situation. In this case consideration means recognizing a situation exists and needs to be acted on. Respect asks your co-worker to evaluate how possible courses of action will affect each person involved. Honesty simply helps him assess which solution works best for everyone, not just him. When there are no conventions to guide you, applying this technique gives you the best chance to "do the right thing."