7 Rules of Elevator Etiquette

Most adults realize that every environment—be it the workplace, a restaurant, or even a taxi cab—has its own set of best practices and rules to follow. These rules are typically followed to ensure that everyone stays safe, comfortable, and moves through the environment as efficiently as possible. Elevators are a common area that warrant their own set of rules, and there’s enough of them—approximately 1 million elevators in the United States and Canada alone—to make ‘elevator etiquette’ worth brushing up on.

1. Follow the “two-flight” rule

This rule actually insists you stay out of the elevator if you’re going fewer than two floors up or down. Why? You may get some dirty looks from colleagues and fellow passengers if you’re adding an extra 20 seconds to their commute or if they have to stop at every other floor. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule—the elderly, parents with strollers, those with disabilities, etc.

2. Holding the door—when, how, and if you should do it

It’s been a long-debated question as to whether you should hold the elevator door for someone. On one hand, it might seem like a matter of compassion; but on the other, you risk holding up the ride for your fellow passengers. If you’re alone in the elevator, do what you think is right. When you’re riding with others, consider getting a quick thought on whether you should hold it. If the elevator is full, on the other hand, there’s no shame in giving an apologetic expression and letting the doors close.

Many people are of the mind that you should simply let fate decide. If the person scrambling toward the elevator is meant to catch that ride, they will; if not, there’s always the next one. Elevators are always a matter of timing and the general consensus seems to be that there is no general consensus or universal rule for this particular scenario.

3. Keep proxemics in mind when positioning yourself in an elevator

Proxemics is the study of human behavior as it relates to public and private space. In short, proxemics entails how most humans view public, personal, and intimate spaces in regards to comfort, propriety, and efficiency. Men traditionally follow the “urinal theory of proxemics” already, which includes best practices for how to pick the urinal if some or more are already occupied. Elevators benefit from the same kind of consideration and practices.

  • If only two people are in the elevator, it’s best to stand on opposite sides of the car.
  • Three to four people should gravitate toward each of the corners.
  • Five or more riders should attempt to space themselves out evenly and face forward. Arms and hands should be kept at the sides to avoid contact.

4. Always face the elevator doors

If you’re entering a crowded elevator (with three or more riders), it’s always best to face the doors. Entering the elevator and staring into the face of someone else can be uncomfortable, awkward, and even creepy. You’re already in someone’s personal space so don’t make it any worse by initiating potentially unwanted eye contact.

5. Minimal eye contact is standard

Sometimes you can’t help but make a little eye contact, and getting on the elevator doesn’t have to be a completely awkward and detached experience. Brief eye contact and a nod or smile is usually well-received by your fellow riders, so long as you turn your focus to something—anything—else in the elevator once you’re onboard. This gives others the chance to enjoy the ride in peace without forcing them to engage in small talk or making anyone uncomfortable.

6. Keep phone calls private

What should seem like common sense may actually take pointing out: keeping your cell phone holstered in a pocket or sticking to text is common courtesy in enclosed spaces, particularly such small ones as an elevator. If you’re on a call with someone as you approach an elevator, tell them you’ll call them right back. Similarly, if you receive a call in the elevator you can answer and give them the same message, or decline and text back that you’ll return their call ASAP.

Not only is it good etiquette to keep your phone calls private, but you won’t annoy other riders by filling the small space with the sound of a one-way conversation they didn’t ask to listen to.

7. How to exit when the elevator is full

When the elevator is packed, the two standing closest to the doors should step out at any requested stops to allow folks in the back to exit without requiring them to squeeze themselves out. It’s not fun to get elbowed, and it’s certainly uncomfortable to wedge yourself up against people because they’re not willing to move two feet out of the way. When you step out of the elevator to make room for those leaving, be considerate and hold the doors to make reentry smooth.

If you’re the one exiting, it’s best to give the others a warning by saying something like, “my stop is next” or “the next floor is my stop.” This gives them time to adjust spacing and, if they’ve been brushing up on their etiquette, the chance to step out and give you ample room to exit.

On a similar note, when boarding a full elevator, give those inside the first chance to exit before making your way inside.

Although home elevators hardly demand such rigorous rules of etiquette, it helps to realize the unique atmosphere an elevator can create. This is especially true of residential elevators as they can literally transform your home into a place that you will never lose access to, giving you the freedom to enjoy your home for years to come, regardless of age or impairment.