x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rise to the occasion in that overcrowded lift

The Life: What to do among other riders when stepping aboard for that daily high-rise ascent to the office.

Debbie Nicol, the workplace doctor, says riding a lift will have you in other people’s zones. Sarah Dea / The National
Debbie Nicol, the workplace doctor, says riding a lift will have you in other people’s zones. Sarah Dea / The National

I work on the 29th floor of a tower block and every morning I patiently wait in a crowd of people before squashing myself into the lift and enduring the endless stops at the floors leading up to mine. For me, the experience is as uncomfortable as taking the Tube to work in London, where passengers avoid each other's gaze or try not to touch anyone inappropriately during the rush hour. What tips can you give me for lift etiquette - particularly in a mirrored lift where my discomfort is reflected around the lift? MA, Abu Dhabi

 

Hi MA, it sounds like your lifts in Abu Dhabi are the same as the rest of the world. One day I am going to fulfil a dream of mine and carry out a study into human behaviour in a lift environment. We all tend to be on automatic pilot when interacting with lifts - the process diligently unfolding with the stepping in, turning around to face the front, the ritual of pressing the button and watching the numbers light up relentlessly (unless of course you are entering Burj Khalifa's "At the Top" lift experience - what an explosion of expectation and feast for sore eyes with that lift's display). My experiment would have me standing back to consciously be the very last person into the lift before I step in and rather than turn around, smile at each and every person (of course, while respecting cultural traditions). On top of the smile, I would then politely wish everyone a great morning. Not intended to be "in your face" but rather breaking a norm - just remember it only takes one brave soul to reply to you when all other lambs would simply follow suit. Could this start a trend? Let me know if you become the trailblazer, MA.

The reality is that a lift will have you in other people's zones - as human beings we have our public, personal and intimate zones, and different distances for each depending on our backgrounds. People who would not be welcome into your home are almost sitting in your favourite chair while travelling in a lift. Half of me wants to say "deal with it" while the other half totally empathises when I consider who's been in my chair recently.

As we cannot change the fact you have to ride a lift every day, here's a few tips that work for me:

 

• Take your mind off the discomfort. I have proved to myself time and time again that what I focus on comes to be, both positive and negative. So by thinking about other things (what tasks are urgent for today, what to do to make your day more interesting, etc) will surely take the focus off any uncomfortable feelings.

 

• Position an object in front of you to ensure people will have to keep their distance. For a lady this may be a handbag, for gents a stack of files. Notice the delivery man with piles of packages in front of him - nobody can get anywhere near him.

 

• Coordinate a daily "group event" with your office colleagues so that there's safety in numbers. Each member could participate in an unsaid competition which aims to get the masses laughing in the lift, with a monthly "best effort" prize for the most innovative.

 

Doctor's Prescription

You can't change your journey into the office, but you can change your perception of it.

 

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague