I have pee anxiety. If I’m left with limited options for a toilet I’ll suddenly feel the urge to go - even if I don’t need to. It’s psychological and it’s taught me a great deal about getting through a crowd when all seems hopeless.
We’ve all been there — you’re trying to get through a dense airport, subway station, or concert venue and people just don’t seem to move for you. How dare they! Luckily, getting through a horde of people can be easy, if you can practice some useful people strategies (and etiquette).
I spoke to Paul Wertheimer, a crowd safety expert, about how to get through a crowd as efficiently as possible and why touching someone, like a gentle shoulder pat, isn’t always a good practice when it comes to crowd jumping.
Walk through the periphery
If you’re in a stationary crowd and trying to get to the front of a stage, take the path of least resistance and walk through the sides of the venue, Wertheimer said. The perimeter of a venue tends to be less dense, so you’ll have a better shot at making your way toward the front.
Once you’ve made some distance, cut your way into the crowd sideways and a crowd should open up. Cutting through sideways allows you to take up less space and people will see you coming and take note of it. “You’re approaching people from the side,” Wertheimer said. “You’re not approaching from the back, you’re not interrupting them, catching them off guard or disturbing them. They’re aware visually that you’re coming their way.”
Gesture your way through
If you’re cutting through a crowd and need someone’s attention without annoying them, just make it clear where you’re going with a simple hand gesture. It has a handy psychological effect. “It’s so people don’t think [you’re] going to stand in front of them. People are more likely to let you through,” Wertheimer said.
Weave through the crowd
Let’s say the perimeter of the crowd is immovable. In that case, instead of pushing people in front of you, do the next best thing and zig-zag through the audience. “It’s not a direct line necessarily,” he said. “I’d say ‘excuse me’ and [after] people part, I see a space to the right or left of a direction of where I’m going, and I weave my way in the right direction, using [those] spaces.”
See someone headed where you want to go? Let them lead the way, Wertheimer also recommends. “Follow the stream,” he said. “Instead of creating another path, if someone else is already trailblazing, just follow them in their wake and drift them. Again, it’s the path of least resistance.”
Look at a point in the distance
Let’s change the scenario up a bit. What happens if you’re in a moving crowd, like that on a busy street or subway platform? According to Wertheimer, weaving through crowds is still the best strategy, as well as keeping pace. Don’t stop, as you’ll only hold up the people behind you.
Although concerts can be transcendental experiences that inspire collectivism unlike anything else on this earth, anyone who's been to a show has at least one story about another audience member tainting the experience with some form of disruptive behaviour.
Walking with intent and planning your next steps by looking at a particular point in the distance can get people out of your way, too. People will instinctively step out of your way if they can assess your line of vision and where you’re headed.
Don’t touch people
Yes, it may seem like a gentle pat on the shoulder may help you part a crowd, but it’s not always a good move, Wertheimer added. “You don’t know the person you’re going to touch,” he said. “You can often startle somebody.” It’s also just plain annoying and you might disturb someone during a show or concert. Instead, simply pointing to your direction will do the trick.
And if a crowd still won’t move, well, at least you’re that much closer to a restroom and an exit.