The other day I held the door open for my daughter, and she asked me, “Daddy, why do girls always go first?” 

My daughter is seven years old. She is head-strong, clever, brave and kind. I rarely worry if she is ready to enter the real world because I am more concerned that the real world is not ready for her.

I held the door open for my daughter for a few reasons. The main reason is it’s just good manners, of course. I was raised that it was polite to hold the door open for someone or let them go ahead of you. I was taught that you should put your knife and fork together once you have finished eating. I was told to say please and thank you when you wanted something or received something. And I was encouraged, always, to be kind and polite. That means holding the door open for people. Physically and metaphorically.

My daughter is seven years old. She is not aware of the glass ceiling. She doesn’t know that you are more likely to be the CEO of the FTSE 100 company if you are called Steve than you are to be a woman. That’s true; you can look it up. And my daughter thinks the gender pay gap is when I gave pocket money to my son but forgot to give my daughter hers. 

So when she asked me why I opened the door, it got me thinking about manners, politeness, and, perhaps surprisingly, ego. Three ingredients that depending on the quantity, can make a man or a monster. In this weeks blog, we will be talking about how opening the door for someone can also open a whole can of worms. 

I’m Andrew Sillitoe. Welcome to my blog. Let’s go… No after you. No, really, I insist.

If you are anything like me, you are guilty of occasionally taking a kind gesture the wrong way. A friend says, “you look really well”, and I think “So I didn’t the last time I saw you, thanks very much!” 

A colleague offers to help with my workload, and I think, “Oh, you don’t think I can handle it, huh?”

 And someone holds the door open for me, and I beat my chest like a Silverback Gorilla to show that I too can be strong and alpha and- you get my point. 

And sidebar, I don’t beat my chest, but I do notice, against my better judgment, that someone opening the door and letting me walk through it first does affect me. A temporary shrinking makes me feel smaller, making me feel like a guest but not a club member. Whether this is a helpful reaction or even if it is right enters my head only after the feeling enters my body… This is true of many aspects of life, but as a business leader, I am always looking to improve myself and my team, and I feel like exploring this idea is a way of doing just that.

This is why I’m so proud to be introducing the “Andrew Sillitoe How To Open Doors and Not Intimidate People” Masterclass coming to a city near you.

It will be held in large, open fields so that no one has to use a door. This one-of-a-kind masterclass will allow like-minded business people to share their feelings about the daunting and dangerous door opening practices that are keeping you up at night. Unlock and open that locked door in your mind…

I’m not being serious. But the question is serious. Can we ruin someone’s day by opening a door for them? Is the ego so fragile that a kind, well-meaning and polite gesture can result in people feeling “less than”? And I know my ego has in the past resembled an eggshell. But I am trying to address this to make me less vulnerable in the workplace and at home. 

As business leaders, we are responsible for making and maintaining an environment where people can thrive, including ourselves. People want to come to work to feel supported, welcomed, and one of the team. That is sort of what everyone wants. 

Not just at work. It is the reason we support sports teams even after a seven-game losing streak because we want to belong to that club. It’s the reason we smile when we see someone we recognise at a party we are dreading because no one wants to feel like an alien. 

That is why it is essential to open doors, physically and metaphorically. It sends a message of “you are welcome, here”. I’m trying to see it less as an act of aggression and more as one of kindness.

Now, I’m going to ask you to cast your mind back a couple of years. The two-metre rule was simply a very long ruler to a magical time. An era where “pandemic” was just a board game and a time when we used to shake hands. Yes, that far back in time. The year was 2017. President Donald Trump redefines lots of things, but certainly, the handshake. This simple greeting, famous for generations the world over, was suddenly a huge headline. Why? Because his handshake was bizarre. 

President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shared a 19-second handshake during a photo-op at the White House.

Trump shook the hand of Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister’s hand, for 19 seconds. Usain Bolt could have covered 200 metres during this now-infamous moment. But the length of time is not the only remarkable thing about it. There was hand-tapping, yanking and patting that made it resemble more of a secret handshake you’d make up with your friends at Scouts than one of two world leaders in front of the press. Like many things in business and life, this handshake is about power. It is about control. Thank goodness they didn’t have to walk through a door together. Who knows how late the news crews would have had to stay to capture the moment when one of them, eventually, walked through the doorway first. 

This is not an issue of gender politics. Both leaders were male. Surely they were not looking for any more power as they both stood in the highest positions of their respective nations. So what was up with that handshake? We might never know. But I do know that if I spent 19 seconds awkwardly saying “after you, please. No really, after you” every time I met someone in a doorway, I would not have time to do the work I needed to do on the other side of the door. 

For me, it is more important to get into the same room and start talking than it is to be standing on the outside wondering who is going to blink first. We need to be in the room where the conversations are happening, and it is about making sure everyone can get into it, both physically and metaphorically. If I am so worried about having the door held open for me, I am allowing my ego to be damaged before my work has started. I am trying to put that feeling behind me. I hope you can too. 

If someone holds the door open for me, I’ll thank them. If I have the door available for someone, I hope they’ll thank me, but I will try not to let it ruin my day if they don’t. Most importantly, we, as business leaders and as people, make sure that our pride does not get in the way of our progress. I will continue to hold the door open for people. I hope that you will as well. That way, we can all get to where we are going as quickly and as kindly as possible, leaving us with more time in the rooms where positive change happens. 

My name is Andrew Sillitoe. This has been my blog, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. My door is always open. Oomph. I think I’ll let myself out.