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8 Reasons Why Waiting in Line Drives Us Crazy

I’m a very impatient person, and standing in a slow-moving line is one of those very small, maddening aspects of life that drives me crazy. As often happens, however, when I learned more about the experience, it became more interesting to me.

I happened to read a paper by David Maister, The Psychology of Waiting Lines. The piece is aimed at people who operate stores, restaurants, doctors’ offices, and other places where people fuss about being kept waiting. Of course, most of us are the ones standing in line, not the ones controlling the line, but I was fascinated by getting this insight into my own psychology.

Maister’s main point is that the actual time we’re waiting may have little relationship to how long that wait feels. Two minutes can pass in a flash, or two minutes can feel interminable. Here are eight factors that make waits seem longer…

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8 Reasons Why Waiting in Line Drives Us Crazy

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  1. Or, on a different subject, have you found that understanding an experience better has made it more interesting?

    I think that for a majority of people out there, whether they know/believe it or not, would say that once they understand something that has happened to them they do become more interested about it. You made a number of good points that relate to the questioning of how this process comes about without us maybe never realizing it. I for one have questioned parts of various experiences only to further delve into the reasons behind what I concluded at face value. Point is, the understanding, and lack thereof, bring about the human reaction of questioning. I believe that once the process starts of unraveling an idea/action, there is no turning back. It is tougher to learn something than it is to unlearn it.

  2. This is an interesting concept based on the assumption that the experience of time slowing down is a negative thing. I created “The Grocery Store Test” based on the same premise. Instead of trying to change the perception of time we can better pass the test by changing our beliefs.

    I believe, with good reason, that there is a limit to how much time we have in this life. The older I get, the faster time seems to expire. If I can get each moment to seem longer, I get to live more. Therefor, times where it slows down are not bad things, but opportunities for more life.

    Albert Einstein is often quoted for saying that “Time is relative. When you work at a hot stove a minute seems like an hour, but when you sit on the couch with a pretty woman an hour seems like a minute.” His premise is how we value our experiences affects how we perceive time. When we learn to value standing in line as a beautiful slow experience of time, we no longer need to distract ourselves from what is happening. When we value all experiences equally, time becomes more constant.

    We pass the grocery store test when we can stand in the longest line and enjoy the wait Instead of trying tricks to distract us. From that point of view we treat those around us with love and kindness instead of impatience and crabbiness. When we change our behavior, which includes how we perceive the circumstances, everything becomes beautiful. We stop getting anxious or avoiding lines, and our behavior helps others to share in the beauty of the moment. This simple change in beliefs changes our experience and that of those around us.

  3. I love it when articles or blogs relate to my business classes! For instance, the fourth point is essentially the concept of “managing expectations” that I am learning about in my management class.

    As an example, it is better for a customer service representative to ask a customer to hold for fifteen minutes, than to ask them to hold for a moment. This is because when the customer knows the time- essentially the cost- right up front, they are going to make an informed decision about whether or not they want to wait. This therefore decreases the chances of customer dissatisfaction, which in turn drives loyalty, which in turn drives repeat purchases and word of mouth promotion.

    You can see businesses- like restaurants- apply this principle and it seems to be pretty successful.

    It’s ironic that I found something applicable to my major when doing research for a blog, about waiting in line, that a group of friends and I have set up.

    One of my friends posted a blog recently where he conducted a cost benefit analysis, kind of like reason #4, which is interesting and I feel compliments this very well. Check it out:



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