We have all stood awkwardly waiting for an elevator door to open and found ourselves negotiating who enters and exits first. Likewise, we have all approached a revolving door with a moment of hesitation as we wondered who enters first to push the door. Today, gentlemen often ask us if and when it is appropriate to adhere to the old adage: “ladies first.”
Mastering “who goes first” is more complicated than it used to be. Many believe that etiquette scenarios like this door dilemma are simply common sense. Are they? Social skills—like any other skill—must be taught, and people learn their social skills from a variety of sources over time. Some families pass on etiquette rules—that may or may not be correct—from generation to generation. Others learn by observation, trial and error, or attendance at finishing schools.
Why does this matter? Etiquette changes as society changes, and what you learned from your family or by experience may be out of date. Those who possess a current understanding of etiquette are better equipped to confidently navigate a wider range of social interactions.
So, who goes first through a door? Today, it depends.
In a traditional social setting, people often defer to those who are female and older by allowing ladies to go through a door first. However, be aware that some people no longer subscribe to these traditional rules and might be offended by the offer of first entrance.
In a business setting, you should defer to those with greater seniority by inviting the highest ranked individual to go through a door first regardless of gender. Business etiquette is gender blind. Gentlemen who follow the social etiquette guideline of “ladies first” in a business setting may be viewed as chauvinistic. Ladies, be gracious; if you are given the opportunity to enter a door first in a business setting, simply smile and say, “Thank you.”
In reality, it is not practical to stop at a door and check business rank or age before proceeding. Most often, the person who approaches a door first will hold the door for the others.
What about revolving doors? If the revolving door must be pushed, a gentleman would precede a lady in a social setting, while a junior person would precede a senior colleague in a business setting. If the revolving door is automatic, the rules are the same as regular doors: ladies go first in social settings and higher-ranking individuals go first in business settings.
Opening doors is an act of kindness that can be shown to anyone—regardless of gender, rank, or age. It is always polite to open and hold a door for another person, particularly those whose arms are full or may have a physical ailment. If you are on the receiving end of this act of kindness, always smile and say, “Thank you!” At the end of the day, conveying kindness and respect for all people is the goal in every situation.
Kim Purscell is a licensed etiquette instructor and protocol consultant, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at Kim@EtiquetteMatters.us