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Who Goes First?

Invariably I get asked about doors. People are particularly interested in revolving doors and elevator doors. My guess is their questions and their lack of confidence stem from the old adage that men hold the door for women, and women should go through the door first. But we’ve also learned that today’s world in general, and the business world specifically, have changed. So does the old adage still stand: men should hold the door for women?

Interestingly, in business when two colleagues arrive at a revolving door, the solution is simple. Whoever arrives at the door first should step forward and get it moving. Communicate. “Please, go ahead.” Or “Let me get that for you.” Who goes first doesn’t matter nearly as much as communicating ahead so there is no confusion. The awkward play: hesitate and then step forward and end up stuffing both of you into the same section of the revolving door. That is a faux pas leading to a pas de deux shuffle, and neither of you can’t get to the exit fast enough.

If I’m out socially, then the situation changes slightly. The key again turns on communication so you again don’t end up crammed into the same section of the revolving door. If it’s a door that is already moving, I’ll step aside and indicate for my female companion to go first. I might even add a “Please, go ahead” just so there won’t be any confusion. If, on the other hand, the door isn’t moving, I will offer to go first. “Here, let me get that for you.” Then, as I exit, I wait to offer my arm as she steps out next to me.

Elevators also seem to cause confusion, especially whether a man should step aside and wait for a woman to exit. Whether I’m in a business situation or out socially, regardless of the gender of the person I am with, as the doors open, I glance at the person and gesture for them to go first. I’ll add a verbal cue as well: “Please go ahead.” That simple communication saves a lot of confusion and awkwardness.

It gets a little trickier when you’re in an elevator that has several people in it. In this case, it simply doesn’t make sense for a man to try to step aside in a crowded elevator car so a woman can exit first. The person closest to the door should just step through the door and then hold the door so the people exiting don’t have it shut on them. If I’m following people exiting an elevator, I’ll smile, nod and say thank you to the person holding the door for me. If no one in front of me has made an effort to hold the door, I’ll try to reach out to hold it so it doesn’t start closing on anyone exiting behind me.

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