|Photo Courtesy of Raquel Garcia in Unsplash
Why Waiting Can Make Us a Wee Bit Bonkers
(it’s actually not the wait that drives you crazy)
In researching this, I learned that there is a bit of an art and science to waiting.
I came across an excellent piece written by business author David Maister who wrote on this topic some years ago.
I’m borrowing heavily from his key points.
Occupied Time Feels Shorter Than Unoccupied Time.
That’s why business often strategically place mirrors in high wait zones like elevators, waiting rooms and even gymnasiums. What better way to occupy a wait than the inane activity of looking at yourself or others while waiting for that “UP” arrow or taking a mandatory rest between reps.
Then there’s always that default activity of looking at your smart phone. What better way to appear cool and confident while trapped in a wait zone? Mea culpa on that one myself.
People Just Want to Get On With Things (rather that wait to get going)
Anticipatory stress while waiting for something to happen makes it feel like we’re waiting much longer than we actually are. That’s why physiological stress symptoms like tension headaches or stomach nerves often appear ahead of key meetings, presentations or difficult conversations.
Anxiety Makes Waits Seem Longer.
“Waiting + Anxiety = Seriously Not Good”
Waiting plus a strong undercurrent of anxiety is crazy-making stuff.
We’ve all had the experience of choosing a line at Ikea, the bank, or the airport, and stood there worrying that we had indeed, chosen the wrong line.
A debate with yourself ensues as you try to decide whether to move, or switch to another line. The anxiety level ramps up and the wait becomes intolerable.
Being a leader in circumstances where your entire team is anxious and wanting to switch lines is especially difficult.
Open-ended Waits Are Longer than Waits with a Time Frame
At the doctor’s office, patients who arrive early will sit contentedly until the scheduled time, even if this is a significant amount of time in an absolute sense (say, thirty minutes). However, once the appointment time is passed, even a short wait of, say, ten minutes, grows increasingly annoying. The wait until the appointed time is finite; waiting beyond the point has no knowable limit.
Unexplained Waits Are Longer than Explained Waits
If the doctor’s receptionist informs me that doc just got called out to an emergency and offers a re-schedule, I can wait with greater patience.
Airline pilots also understand this principle well. On-board announcements usually reference baggage being a bit late, fog over landing strips, safety checks, or waiting for the air-traffic controllers’ runway instructions. Explanations may have varying degrees of veracity, but they are way better than no explanation at all.
Unfair Waits Are Longer than Equitable Waits
In traffic jams, (a vehicular form of lineup) where you don’t know the cause of the delay or the timeline for getting going again, the level of anxiety is demonstrably high. Situations like this are fertile ground for incidents of road rage.
In other wait situations, facilities have a “take a number” system where you are served in strict numerical order. Often the number being served is prominently displayed so that customers can estimate the expected waiting times.
The Higher the Perceived Value, The Longer People Will Wait
This explains why ardent fans will camp out on the sidewalk days in advance of an event to get priority positioning for their favorite band or artist.
Disney Corp. marketing folks work this to perfection. They are so successful that they get parents with young children to happily stand in line for an hour for a four-minute ride — a pretty remarkable feat.
This illustrates the principle that wait tolerance largely depends upon perceived value of service, -perhaps with the emphasis on the perception.
Solo Waits Feel Longer than Group Waits
One of the remarkable things to observe in these Pandemic times is to witness how conventional social isolation suddenly has become cool. People with zero connection now have a common threat and a common bond
Total strangers suddenly turn to each other from 6 ft. away to express their exasperation, wonder collectively what is happening, and console each other. What this illustrates is that there is some form of comfort in group waiting rather than waiting alone.
WAITING IS NEVER EASY! Sometimes having a better understanding and awareness of a situation helps. It doesn’t make the waiting time any shorter, but it does make it more acceptable or bearable to those of us who wait.
You still here?
Here’s that treat I promised.
See STAY IN QUEUE from Laboratoire Ferdinand Lutz Enjoy.
FYI – I’M PRESENTLY REACHING OUT TO SOME OF YOU FOR HELP WITH AN IMPORTANT RESEARCH QUESTION. IT’S FOR AN ONLINE COURSE CONCEPT I’M PLANNING FOR THE FALL. IT WILL BE SPECIFICALLY FOR EMERGING LEADERS AND EXPERIENCED LEADERS WHO WANT TO “LEVEL UP”. Thanks to those of you who already helped out in this way. Thanks also to those of who have booked a future research conversation. I appreciate your valuable insights.
If you are interested in knowing more or participating in this, I’d love to speak with you about this. Just click the link below and book a time for a 15-20 minute Zoom conversation.
Until next time,
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