Door-holding etiquette: when to hold and when to go

By Ali Strand

Flickr/Tom Hickmore

We’ve all at some point encountered that awkward situation: should I stay? Should I go? Should I turn around? Do I keep walking and try to help? The real dilemma here is how close or far away should a person have to be in order for you to hold the door for them. For myself, I’m a firm believer in the whole random act of kindness, and holding a door for someone is an easy way to accomplish this. I always try to hold the door for someone that’s somewhat close. However, this kindness can only count if the person is close enough to you so that they can get there in a timely fashion by walking. If you’re making awkward eye contact for far too long because they’re walking from a distance and to get it over with they start to run, that person is too far away. No one should feel obligated to run when they don’t have to.

So now the question is: how can you gauge what’s too far away? To avoid that uncomfortable feeling of should I hold or should I go, here is a list of tips to attempt to gauge the distance from the person behind you:

The Stomp Don’t look, just listen

If you can hear a person’s footsteps behind you, it’s usually the case that they’re pretty close. In this case, you’re totally in the clear to hold the door.

The Mirror Push — A more investigative approach

Attempt to see a reflection in the glass of the door to see if there is anyone behind you. If you can see a reflection but the person isn’t really in range, I say give the door an extra push after you walk through it. That tells the person, “ I know you’re behind me, but you aren’t that close so here’s my attempt to help you out.” Chances are the door closes before they get there; but hey, you tried.

The Uncomfortable Turnaround

Don’t do a full 360-degree turn or anything, but I tend to crane my neck just far around enough to see if I should hold the door. Though sometimes this backfires because the person is too far away to hold the door for him or her. In this case, it looks like you turned around, saw there was someone behind you and deliberately did not hold the door. Then instead of looking kind, you look like a jerk.

The aforementioned tips may help, but there are circumstances in which they are not guaranteed to work. Maybe someone’s wearing really loud shoes and they give the illusion of being close. Perhaps there’s no glass in the door in which to seek out a reflection. It’s difficult to always avoid the awkward door-holding situation; however, because everyone has experienced this at some point or another, almost nobody finds it rude if someone doesn’t hold the door for them if they’re too far away. In short, it’s simple: if someone’s pretty close, hold the door. If someone has to sprint to make the situation more comfortable, then keep walking. Do not get caught up in the trap that if you turn around and see them coming that you have to hold the door. You don’t. They don’t want you too because they don’t want to run. When it comes to door holding, it’s nice to try and be helpful but don’t feel obligated to do so every time you open a door with someone in the general vicinity.

Ali Strand can be reached at [email protected]