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6 Etiquette Rules for the Sidewalk…and Other Walkways

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Etiquette rules for the sidewalk? Sounds strange, doesn’t it – but I’ll explain.

Recently, during my morning walk, I saw a woman with her friend heading towards me.  As we passed, the woman who was dominating most of the sidewalk failed to move over, and as a result jammed into my shoulder. Ouch!

I have heard similar stories from employees about navigating the hallways at work.

Sharing public space, whether it’s on sidewalks or in hallways, is a common cause of conflict, and an ongoing concern for pedestrians and office workers alike. 

The New York Times wrote about this problem some years ago, and recently The Village Voice ran a tongue-in-cheek article about the (fake) New York Department of Pedestrian Etiquette, which would require all pedestrians to receive etiquette training for navigating the city’s walkways. 

I don’t think most people who crowd colleagues or fellow pedestrians are deliberately trying to be rude – they’re often unaware of their behavior and how it affects others. Yet, if we want things to change, the change starts with us. The New York City etiquette training is not real, of course. But fortunately you don’t need official training to learn to negotiate common spaces politely. You simply need to follow these 6 guidelines:

1. Make room for others. If you are walking with other people and taking up most or all of the sidewalk/hallway, it is your responsibility to make room for any other person coming towards you.  In doing so, don’t wait until the last moment. Move over before you bump into someone.

2. Pay attention to your surroundings. When you stop to chat with people, don’t block the sidewalk/hallway. You should move to one side so others can pass. People shouldn’t have to walk around you or push past you.

3. Don’t walk and text on the phone. One professor said that students on their phones constantly bump into her in her school’s narrow hallways. She noted that when texting, her students become oblivious of others. And it’s not just students: One woman in Florida walked into the path of a freight train while texting! Amazingly, she survived.  

4. Don’t cut too closely when passing someone. Doing so can be startling to the person you are cutting in front of – and the heels of your shoes may be stepped on.

5. Greet people. If you make eye contact with someone, acknowledge them with a “hello” or “good morning,” a smile or a nod of the head. When you do so, you are letting them into your space and you are less likely to bump into them. Remember, you don’t need to know someone to say hello. 

6. Don’t stop suddenly. People will bump into you.

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