Let's take the following situation:

  • I'm on the outside and want to go inside

  • Someone is inside and want to go outside

  • The door is open (one of us is holding it)

  • There isn't enough room for both of use to cross at the same time

Every time this situation happens to me, there is an awkward moment when I don't know who should go first and I end-up taking the decision "randomly".

So, is there a specific etiquette that I could follow for this kind of situations?

I already know that, when someone is holding stuff/is loaded, it's good etiquette to let them go first. I also know that, when it's raining outside, it's good etiquette to let the outside person go inside first (so that they can have shelter). But what about all the other situations?

What about when no one is holding anything (except the door) and where the weather is nice outside? What is the etiquette in those cases?

Notes and clarifications:

  • I'm specifically talking about buildings' door, not public transportations' door.
  • Isn't it the most practical to let the person not holding the door go first, as I find it complicated going through a door while holding it open if there is no obvious intend of just opening it for yourself. Or is that implied into the question: Who should open the door?
    – dhein
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 6:28
  • @dhein In my case, the door is already opened. I don't really know what is the most practical to do, but I'm not asking about practicality, I'm asking about politeness.
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 13:46
  • Any particular reason why you think practicality might differ from politeness? Also just to be certain: you want a answer that presumes either of the involved is holding open the door but the answer HAS to be independent of whom holds it open? Or can that be considered in that be considered for the approach, too?
    – dhein
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 14:11
  • @dhein "Any particular reason why you think practicality might differ from politeness?" -> No. I'm not sure I understood the two other questions. However, I'm fine with "whoever is holding the door should go first"
    – Ael
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 14:17
  • Thanks for clarifying, thats what I asked.
    – dhein
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 14:18

2 Answers 2


I too have struggled with this, so I'll share a few things that I do to help ease the awkwardness. Oftentimes when two people approach a door at the same time, one will open it for the other.

Body Language

If one person is holding the door for the other, the body language is very simple to read.

When I am holding a door open (and I've noticed the same of others holding the door for me), I will step to the side to make it clear that I'm waiting for the other person. So when you approach a door at the same time as someone else, check to see if they have moved to the side to let you pass.

Another piece of body language is the hand gesture. If for instance the door opens next to a wall where one can't step to the side, it's very common to extend your hand, palm up, and make a gesture to indicate that the other person should walk through.

When you should allow the other person through

Knowing what body language to look for is good, but we also need to talk about when to use it. As I'll talk about a bit later, it's usually good to let people exit before you enter. An easy facilitator of this is that doors often open towards the outside. This is important because the most common pattern is for the person on the side that the door opens to hold it (basically, hold the door when you have to pull on it to open it).

When nobody is holding the door

I don't know if this is the same where you live, but where I live, the general rule of thumb is to let whoever is exiting go first. This is most common on public transit (we even have PA announcements reminding everyone to let people exit first before entering), but we also do it for buildings (though most buildings here have revolving doors that facilitate 2 way traffic).

Unfortunately, these tips may not entirely eliminate your awkward interactions. I've been following the "exiting person goes first" concept for as long as I've lived in a highly populated city, and it works about 95% of the time, but you will occasionally run into someone in a hurry who is just going to go through the door first regardless. One other thing when in doubt, I typically wait for the other person to go first, because it's just a kind thing to do, and I try not to be in a hurry.


Outside of explicit body language indicating that one person would like to be helpful and allow the other person to go first such as stepping to the side while holding the door, nodding or waving for the other person, I often choose to follow a first there, first to go method.

Simply put the first person to reach the door is the first person who should be allowed through. This method also works very well with the fore mentioned body language as it becomes the responsibility of the first person to the door to indicate if they wish to forfeit their right to go through first and wait for the other person. While you may of course still have the occasional awkward moment, this method gives you a clear set of guidance that appeals to the self-centered nature a busy person often has.

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