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You Don’t Always Have to Hold the Door Open—and 10 Other Rules of Modern Elevator Etiquette

Don't be that person in the elevator. Ditch these bad habits pronto to keep your ride between floors perfectly civilized.

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Take the stairs for short trips

Only take the elevator if you’re going at least two flights up or three flights down; otherwise take the stairs. “The two-flight rule is central,” says Liz Taylor Grussing, etiquette expert and founding director of Etiquette Principles. “Be considerate of others involved. If you’re rushing out the door and think you need to use the elevator to get to the second floor, why not just use the stairs so it’s more helpful for everyone else? Even if it seems like an inconvenient decision for you personally, do what’s best for everyone.” Besides, you can probably use the exercise. And make sure you’re also considerate in a public bathroom, these are the 14 etiquette mistakes people make all the time.

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Put your cell phone away

We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again. Save all calls—personal and business—for another time. Talking on the phone when you’re in an elevator is, in most cases, inconsiderate—and ultimately, a huge turn-off. “I was at a recent business conference and we heard from two people who interviewed at the same company for a new position. The gentleman who was interviewing both candidates happened to be in the elevator with each before their interview,” Grussing says. “The person who didn’t get the job took a personal phone call in the elevator.” Enough said. Here are 10 more cell phone etiquette rules you should be following.

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Don’t carry on a lengthy conversation

If you walk into an elevator and happen to know someone in that elevator, keep chatter to a minimum. No one else wants to hear about your summer vacation, even if it was your best trip ever. Save those details for later. And if you’re leaving a meeting at the office, don’t talk business during your elevator ride down. “It’s unprofessional,” Grussing says. “Do not talk about business until you’re out of the building—in your car or in a completely different setting. You never know who’s going to be in the elevator and listening in.” Memorize these 14 phrases polite people always say.

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But don’t be mute, either

Are you walking into an elevator with five other people, or just one? “Assess your surroundings,” Grussing says. “Details matter. A simple ‘good morning’ to someone can make all the difference in the world.” And if you’re standing next to the buttons in an elevator, assume the responsibility of the button pusher. “The person closest to the buttons should automatically ask, ‘Should I hit a floor for you?’ when others walk in. That’s definitely appropriate.”

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Spit your gum out

But if you have no other choice, hide it and don’t open your mouth until after you exit the elevator. “If you need to have gum to keep your breath in check, then put it under your tongue so people can’t see you’re chewing it,” Grussing says. “Then discard it when you get to your office. Bring a travel toothbrush to work and brush your teeth in the restroom after lunch.” Spitting your gum out in public is just one of the many little etiquette rules you should always practice.

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Put away the lipstick

There’s a time and place to fix your face—and it’s not in the elevator. “Do it in the restroom or in your car before you walk into the building,” Grussing says. “If you’re in an office building and headed to an interview, it’s going to be embarrassing if the person you’re interviewing with happens to be in the elevator. Your self-confidence is going to be shot before the interview even starts.”

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And don’t look around

While eye contact is largely considered a major trust builder, it’s something to avoid in small, confined spaces with strangers. So keep your gaze toward the front of the elevator. “People should always face forward. You want to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible,” Grussing says. On the flip side, here are outdated rules even etiquette experts don’t follow.

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Yield to those with special circumstances

It’s a courtesy thing. “If I’m at a mall and there’s a mom with a double stroller, I always say, ‘You go ahead.’ The same rules apply for pregnant women, the elderly, and incapacitated. These people have special parking spots so they should have special elevator rules, too,” Grussing says.

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If you’re a front runner, don’t just step aside when people need to exit

Step all the way out of the elevator instead. “If you’re standing toward the front of the elevator, step off completely instead of moving to the side and making people feel uncomfortable,” Grussing says. “When you do step off, step to the left-hand side. Then, politely, quietly and quickly come back in.” In addition to these modern day etiquette rules, here are Victorian-era etiquette rules that need to make a comeback.

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Know how long is too long to hold the door open for others

There’s some gray area here, but Grussing has a few universal rules of thumb. “If the door is more than halfway open, slowly closing and you see someone a foot outside of the elevator, then absolutely hold it open,” she says. “But do a quick survey of those in the elevator with you. If most are clearly in a hurry, use your best judgment. Take things case-by-case. You don’t want to be the patron who opens the door for someone 20 feet away—that’s annoying. Do what you think is best for everyone involved in the situation, including those already in the elevator with you.”

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Don’t overthink—just be polite and use your common sense

Think logically. “It’s not rocket science, but a lot of people just do what’s convenient for them, instead of considering others,” she says. “Etiquette is about being selfless instead of selfish. It’s not about what fork you’re using but how you approach a situation with consideration for the other person or people involved.” Now that you know the rules for the elevator, check out the rules for driving etiquette.

Lauren Bettenga
Lauren Bettenga is a contributing writer for Reader’s Digest covering Culture, Advice, Travel and Home Improvement. Her work has also been published in Country Living, The Pioneer Woman and Business Insider, among other outlets. She earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute.