Elevator Awkwardness

What is it about riding in an elevator that can make people uncomfortable? And I’m not talking about claustrophobia or the fear of the elevator suddenly going into free-fall, although I actually had that happen to me once. Fortunately this was long enough ago that there was an elevator attendant “driving” the elevator. For the briefest of seconds I suddenly felt weightless and then pressure on my legs. The attendant realized that the elevator had suddenly started to drop and instantly slammed on the brake. The elevator came to a stop between two floors. The attendant then pried open the doors. With the doors open, we could see the floor we were meant to stop at about at chest height and were then able to climb our way out of the car. Thanks all around were offered to the elevator operator for his quick action. I’ve always been amazed and grateful that there was an attendant operating the elevator and that he reacted as quickly as he did.

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But, I digress. I think the reason people feel awkward in an elevator is that they are in close, very close, proximity to strangers. Americans, as a rule, are uncomfortable when strangers encroach on their personal space, which seems to be about eighteen inches. Not only are strangers closer than eighteen inches in a crowded elevator, the doors close and there is no escape. Awkward.

What can you do to alleviate the discomfort whether it is a crowded elevator or not? As you enter, nod and offer a greeting: “Hi,” “Good morning,” or “Good afternoon” all work nicely. That simple greeting breaks the ice between you and other people in the elevator and makes it much easier for you then to stand near them. If necessary, say “Excuse me” as you move into the elevator, and make room for others who also want to enter. Of course, it’s a perfect time to either push the button for your floor or ask politely for the person nearest the control panel to push your floor button for you. If you are closest to the panel, then ask the other people who have entered the elevator which floor they would like to go to.

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Once in and settled, if you have entered with a friend or colleagues, don’t engage in any conversation that could be considered personal. A quiet chat is fine but talking or laughing loudly may annoy the other occupants.

In addition, refrain from staring at the other occupants; smacking gum, if you are chewing it; or singing along with your music. When there is a mirror, avoid the temptation to do any personal grooming. Save it for the restroom.

In essence, be extra aware of how your actions can affect those around you, especially when you are all trapped in that small space. By being considerate of everyone, you’ll help make being on the elevator a little less awkward for all.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.

Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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