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Lift, Elevator Etiquette - What you Can Do, Can't Do, Naughty Things

Updated on November 19, 2016
janderson99 profile image

John uses his scientific skills (PhD) & experience developing 50+ websites to research, review & evaluate SEO, website design, Social Media

Why is the lift or elevator such an awkward, uncomfortable and unfriendly place where everyone feels so obliged to stick to the unwritten rules of lift or elevator etiquette?

People are crammed together and their personal space is violated, like cattle or sheep crammed into in a truck. The body language in lifts is a linguist's or psychologist's delight as everyone tries to observe the unwritten rules on how people should behave.

Lifts are class or status neutral - everyone has to use the same set of lifts and everyone is forced together 'up close and personal'. We're all in this together.

There is perhaps no other place where this happens. Senior executives avoid public transport, and other public places, but in lifts they are squeezed together with the masses. The average lift or elevator ride may only lasts a minute or less, but it is such a wonderful opportunity to study human behavior and to have some fun with it.

Learn how to push the people's own buttons during these rare uninvited intrusions into travellers' personal space by challenging the unwritten code of etiquette. Have you been shocked by the rare occasions when people actually break the unwritten code by conducting a conversation, facing away from the doors, playing loud music or blatantly trying to sell something? Well now is the time to learn all about it and have some fun with it - subtly of course or you may get bullied or worse! This article discusses the Do's, Don'ts of lift etiquette for those who want to adhere to it. It also discusses the Things to Try, as well as ways to have Fun in Lifts by challenging all the rigid silly rules and practices.

The main problem with lift travel is that people cannot maintain their normal personal space. This creates the need for all sorts of defensive mechanisms

Intimate: 0 to 18 inches | 0 to 46 cm
Personal: 1.5 to 4 feet | 0.5 to 1.25 m
Social: 4 to 10 feet | 1.25 to 3.1 m
Public: beyond 10 feet | beyond 3 m

How to Avoid Intruding

Stand as far away from others in the lift as possible:

  • 2 people - on opposite sides facing the door
  • 3-4 people - take your corners
  • More than 4 people, stand as far away from everyone as possible and all face the door.
  • Try to become taller, thinner and cram hands in pockets. Brief cases and arms should hang down in front of the body (assume the 'fig leaf' position).
  • Don't touch people unless the lift is so over-crowding that you are forced to make contact. If absolutely necessary only the shoulders and upper arms can touch. Keep your arms out in front to stop anyone backing into you and touching the front of your body - the back is OK in pinch.
  • If you are going many floors stand at the back, for a short ride stand near the door
  • Everyone must face the door
  • Avoid large body movements.
  • Lower your tone and pitch of voice and if you must speak whisper - but any talking is frowned upon
  • Look at the floor, the progress display lights or the buttons to decrease eye contact. You can text in lifts but someone at the back will be looking over your shoulder. Making a cell phone call is a no-no.
  • The more people that are in elevator, the more your body language should be diminished. Remain very still and absolutely quite and try to forget that you are not wearing a deodorant. Try to breathe as little as possible so people aren't exposed to your bad breath or smoking odors.

Fun things to try:

  • Face the side or even the back of the lift
  • Stand in the center or pack one side of the lift
  • Stand right in front next to the doors, no matter how far you are travelling
  • Fold your arms in front of your chest
  • Hum an aggressive tune to yourself

Facial Expressions and eyes contact

Usually, most people on an elevator assume a self-talk mode, that is they adopt a "I am thinking about my day and what I'm going to do next when I leave the lift", or they may assume a "I'm planning for tomorrow pose". Everyone knows what they are really thinking about - making character judgements and performing character assassinations about their fellow lift travellers, with very shifty glances. People feel obliged to look at their hands, stare or gaze at the ground, stare at the button panel, stare at the floor progress indicator lights, the closed doors, the lights in the roof. Some read a document or something else they have brought with them. But watch the furtive glances, because everyone cheats and wants to snoop.

Women and men have a different approach to how to make eye contact in an elevator.

  • Men prefer to avoid all eye-contac
  • Women have to know who will be entering their personal space, and need to make some contact, so they will attempt a quick glance or even a smile.

The most common facial expression made in an elevator is the blank "non-expression," which is used by most people to keep strangers at a safe distance (even dogs use it). The blank stare is what we use to maintain our "private space" . It is a similar one he what we use at the dentist - "Do not disturb me, I'm uncomfortable here"

Fun Things to Try

  • Look directly at someone with a blank burning gaze, but focus right through them to the wall beyond them. When they notice just smile, but keeping looking that way as if you cannot look anywhere else!
  • Stare at the Roof with a concerned look - see how many people follow the lead - catch them out they are not supposed to be looking at you.
  • Pull a silly face. Everyone engages in shifty, furtive glances - catch them out!
  • Keep completely still, but make furtive glances with your eyes to try to catch someone looking at your eyes. Then immediately stare that at the person next to them or at the ceiling, only moving your eyes and after a second or two glance back an see what they are looking at. Keep doing it!

© janderson99-HubPages

Other Rules - Yes These are Serious Rules and Etiquette !

Fun things to Try (While waiting for the lift).

  • On arrival in the lift area, press both the up and down buttons. If the lift is empty and heading down, when you get in you can make it go up. Keep pressing the up or down button over and over again, and act very impatiently - watch people's reaction. The aim is to convince them that the lift will come quicker if more people press the button. This really annoys some people.
  • If there are multiple lifts, start a game of 'Lift Lotto'. Say "I'll put a dollar on Lift 3 coming first". Some people think they know the priority sequence and so they will pick the favorites.

Fun Things to Try (Inside the Lift):

  • When it arrives, run into the doorway to avoid missing out. This adds to the turmoil as the people squeeze past you.
  • Groom Yourself - Most lifts have a mirror so this time in the elevator a great time for a check or to touch up using your make-up mirror. Don't worry about the other people in the lift - they can wait.
  • When listing to music really bop along and shake you head, even tap the beat on the lift railing. Some people play their music so loud that you can hear it as it leaks from the headphones.
  • Read the newspaper and open it out so it rests on your neighbour.
  • Start texting one floor before you are due to get out - hiding the screen so no one can see you are pretending. Then when you arrive, act like an 'unguided missile' and force everyone to dodge around you. Stop in the doorway to finish texting for a second or two, before getting on your way. - extremely annoying!
  • Make weird noises - If you are bored or just plain happy - hum a little tune or a use a soft breathy whistle.
  • Make mini jumps or rocking movements as the lift stops at each floor. You can simply flex at the knees. This makes it seem that the lift is shuddering or bumping, even though its not. It is surprising how many people will start doing the same thing - cushioning their fall as the lift comes to a stop.
  • Put on disposable gloves to push the dirty buttons - seriously they are extremely dirty, and the hand-rails - Yuk! Or stay in the centre of the lift and say:" Can you please press button 4 for me, as I don't like to touch the buttons".
  • Eat and Drink Coffee - Although its frowned upon, the time in the lift is great for consuming. Think of all those lovely food aromas you've enjoyed in the lift. Why not join them.
  • If you are being squeezed too much try a little sneeze or cough and notice how effective it can be to get a little extra room.
  • When someone gets out after only travelling one floor roll your eyes, and emit a little 'Tut Tut' and shake you head to make them feel guilty for not using the stairs.
  • Operate the door "close" and "open" buttons incompetently - when someone is rushing to get the lift, push the door close button by mistake, and say 'Ah sorry'. Or hold the lift for very distant people and make them rush, even if they wave you away. You will be a hero, but everyone in the lift will be annoyed for having to wait, and will be too polite to say anything. As soon as you get in the lift push the 'door close' button - you're late, very very late!
  • Set up an alternative funny ring tone on your phone and trigger it. Apologise and be very apologetic as it fades without being answered. Everyone thinks you a hero because you did not answer it. If you are really brave pretend to answer you mobile phone, complain about the lousy reception and say " Can you Hear Me? You're Breaking UP. Sorry I'm in the Lift - I'll call you back" - at least twice.
  • Mention loudly as the lift shudders "They had lifts like this on the Titanic".Or say "Please turn off your mobile phones as they may interfere with the elevator navigation system".
  • Whenever a guy in a dark suit gets on board, hum the James Bond theme.
  • When arriving at your floor, strain and grunt to yank the doors open - people will think they are broken

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • aboutaustralia profile image


    6 years ago from Newcastle, New South Wales

    hahahaha! I can't wait to go find a lift!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Fabulous article - very useful of course but also very, very funny! I'll need to try a few of your 'fun things' the next time I'm on a lift! When I do get a lift, or sit at the dentists/doctors I always have a overwhelming urge to burst out laughing! I usually get off the lift or step outside from the dentists/doctors when that happens. But maybe next time in the lift I'll see what happens and just laugh!

    Great hub + voted up awesome + funny!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Fabulous article - very useful of course but also very, very funny! I'll need to try a few of your 'fun things' the next time I'm on a lift! When I do get a lift, or sit at the dentists/doctors I always have a overwhelming urge to burst out laughing! I usually get off the lift or step outside from the dentists/doctors when that happens. But maybe next time in the lift I'll see what happens and just laugh!

    Great hub + voted up awesome + funny!

  • kuttingxedge profile image

    S.P. Kelly 

    6 years ago from Just outside of international extradition agreements

    What an awesome article! Thank you. I can't wait to get an elevator, stand in front of the door, arms crossed, and start humming 'Let the bodies hit the floor!' while I am blocking everyone's exit.

    This will be grand! Thanks again for an entertaining read!


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