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When travelling down a hallway with few people going different ways, I sometimes come across someone who travels down the same side of the hall in a different direction from me. When I go to move around them, they do too, creating a dance to get around each other, exactly like the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when he asks Cho to the ball.

This is always awkward, and causes me to apologize for being in the way, which always makes me feel like it's my fault for being in their way (other issues cause this). In some cases, this dance goes on until (like in the movie) someone uses physical contact to move both parties in their respective directions around each other. In many environments, this may be seen as rude or too forward to make physical contact, so I don't really know how to handle myself.

How can I avoid the inevitable stutter step that happens when people travel different directions in a hallway?

  • Meta post. – HDE 226868 Aug 4 '17 at 18:30
  • <comment removed> @user3169 If you have an answer, please post it below. Comments do not have the features needed to properly vet what we say here, so just answering in comments starts to defeat the purpose of having this as a Stack Exchange site in the first place. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino Aug 5 '17 at 14:20
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    I think you might be attaching a bit too much significance to this common event. – PoloHoleSet Oct 25 '17 at 20:15

10 Answers 10

29

You should treat a hallway the same way you treat a road. Walking on the right side of the hall. This is what I do and most of the time people will move to the other side. Sometimes you can't avoid it at corners or intersections but stick to the right side and look that direction to 'signal' that the right side is your intended path.

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    Happened to me once in England, driving on the right side of the road. Fun. Pretty weird though ^^ – OldPadawan Aug 4 '17 at 19:31
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    This makes me wonder, do people walk on the left side of a path in the UK? – Kodos Johnson Aug 5 '17 at 2:24
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    @KodosJohnson Public buildings like hospitals and libraries are generally designed for people to walk on the left. Occasionally school corridors and other crowded areas have the sign, "keep to the left". But if you go into town on a busy Saturday, mostly people walk on the right. We may never know why. – Wilson Aug 5 '17 at 4:59
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    @Wilson Do they change direction in the other hemisphere? – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Aug 8 '17 at 22:27
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    @Anoplexian we all know that in the other hemisphere they walk upside down. Not backwards! – Collatrl Aug 9 '17 at 12:40
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I find it helps if you put your arm forward, lean, nod or otherwise motion the way you're going to go. This helps the other person to then decide to go the other way.

Avoid eye contact at that particular point (pre-shuffle) since this can add to the indecision. I think it implies that you are waiting for their lead on where to go. Of course, to make sure this isn't taken rudely you can nod, smile, or otherwise acknowledge the person (depending on your familiarity with them) during the pass.

5

In crowded places where it's not clear if everyone is expected to walk on the right (or left in the UK), the coordination happens unconsciously in the following way:

While approaching, the persons at a certain distance briefly make eye contact, signaling that they have seen each other.

Next, each one is looking in the direction in which they intend to go. There may be some iterations, if the glances signal a collision course. Stubbornly looking in one direction can help to make it clear which way you are set to follow.

If it is very crowded, it also helps to look down. This signals that you are unable to determine where everyone else is going and it will make them stay clear of your path.

Of course, the latter is somewhat impolite and wouldn't work if everyone were doing it. But it is surprisingly effective.

2

You have to take the lead and signal the person which way you intend to pass him by. This happened to me a while when I was much younger. It's a reflex that you get used to quickly.

2

I actually prefer to just stop moving in this situation. The other person usually moves on around me, but sometimes they stop too. If both of you have stopped, simply point or say you will shuffle to the right. This is not as embarrassing as making eye contact or physically touching the other.

Also something to consider is that while you may feel embarrassed about the stutter step, your opponent will feel embarrassed too. Keep that in mind and it will make the situation feel better.

0

You have asked how to avoid the stutter step. As other people have suggested, I find that indicating with my hand is a good way to communicate my intentions.

However, my interpretation of the situation (which of course may well be wrong) is that you actually want to avoid the awkward feeling that comes with the stutter step. Avoiding the stutter step can avoid the particular symptom (feeling awkward when stutter stepping) but not the cause (feeling awkward in uncertain social situations).

To clarify, I'm not suggesting that learning not to feel awkward would be easy, or that I even have a solution, but recognising that a stutter step is normal and that there's no reason for either party to feel awkward would (in my opinion) be good practice to move along this path. I actually find laughing about the stutter step at the time (with a grin and eye contact) is a good way of diffusing the situation and acknowledging the ridiculousness of what's happening (as life, if anything, is ridiculous).

Good luck, and happy stutter stepping.

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Turn it into a literal (on the spot) dance. Groove a bit, bring your arms up, maybe do a half turn. I don't mean wild gesticulation, just this sort of thing, maybe a bit slower.

The intent is to give the impression that whichever way they choose to go, you will no longer be doing the same thing a nanosecond before or after them, so they can proceed confidently.

This doesn't stop it happening, but fairly effectively kills the awkwardness and prevents the escalation to directing or physical manipulation of the other person.

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  1. Avoid getting into the situation by looking ahead of you instead of down and pre-judging how you'll pass someone, making small telegraphing movements like leaning into your direction of travel will help people know your intentions
  2. Just don't shuffle. Meaning if you do end up in this situation, move decisively in one direction and if you both made the same choice, motion them to pass you in the gap you made, if they somehow did exactly this as well, there's no hope for you and you should go home to bed and start the day over again.
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Naturally, the correct side to pass on is whichever side means the shortest distance for you to travel to get past.

When two people approach each other on the skew, that is, when the line of travel of person A is parallel to but not identical to the line of travel of person B, it's simple: if the shortest distance for A is to the east, then the shortest distance for B is to the west.

But when two people approach each other directly, either way is as short as the other -- so you pick one at random and try to proceed that way.

Of course, if both people pick east, that's when you get the shuffle. No big deal; just keep shuffling until you figure it out.

And no apology (or feeling bad) is necessary.

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Fundamentally, the shuffle occurs because both parties feel they are too busy/important/self-absorbed to let the other person pass. My approach is to stop feeling so damn self-important and just letting the other person pass first by turning aside and letting them pass, with a friendly smile accompanied by an encouraging "go on". No matter what I'm doing, I've never been so busy that I can't take the few seconds it takes for the other person to pass. Additionally, this approach tends to take either the same amount of time, or less, than the awkward shuffle does.

I think this approach allows both parties to save face. I get to feel gallant and we both get to move on with our business without fuss. Body language and signalling can help avoid the problem but it doesn't stop it occurring.

In the rare case where the other person also moves out of the way to let me pass by, I'll encourage them to pass me by first. There's a small risk of creating a dance similar to the 'step shuffle' but in my experience, this risk is minimal.

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