Joe Palca, a National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent recently published a book entitled “Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us”. In the book, Joe Palca and his co-author share a number of common things that are annoying and also some research on why those things are annoying to most of us. In his research, he shares something familiar to those who study Queueing Theory – the annoying delay.
PS: Go here if you’re interested in other articles on Queueing Theory.
In an interview with NPR, Joe Palca shares some facts about what humans find annoying about delays – delays of all types: flight delays and travel delays. This appears to be a universal problem but one we have come to expect. Based on a simple Google query of the word “delay”, below are some of the results:
- Flight Delays
- Newark Airport Delays
- Atlanta Airport Delays
- FAA Flight Delays
- JFK Airport Delays
- Laguardia Airport Delays
- Chicago Airport Delays
And on and on. You get the point. Delays of all types are universally annoying and it bugs us all.
But Joe Palca shares an interesting and subtle point: it’s not just the delay that bugs us, but it is unexplained delays. Think about it. For the most part, we’ve come to expect a delay in some things, such as flight travel and waiting in line at Disneyland. But, the type of Delay that really bugs us are the ones for which there is no explanation.
A lesson from the Psychology of Queueing is helpful here:
- Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time.
- Process-waits feel longer than in-process waits.
- Anxiety makes waits seem longer.
- Uncertain waits seem longer than known, finite waits.
- Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits.
- The more valuable the service, the longer the customer is willing to wait.
- Solo waits feel longer than group waits.
Yes, specifically, a delay with no explanation leads to uncertainty, creating further anxiety and concern, which makes the wait feel even longer than it really is.
What’s the lesson for businesses?
Explain why your customers need to wait longer than expected. Just tell them and give them a sense of when they’ll be served. They’re adults. They can take it. But, worse of all – don’t lie to the customer about wait times and certainly don’t leave them uncertain by not explaining to them the reason for them to wait.
Below is a video promotion for Joe Palca’s book “Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us”, followed by Amazon.com’s description of the book:
Two crackerjack science journalists from NPR look at why some things (and some people!) drive us crazy
It happens everywhere?offices, schools, even your own backyard. Plus, seemingly anything can trigger it?cell phones, sirens, bad music, constant distractions, your boss, or even your spouse. We all know certain things get under our skin. Can science explain why? Palca and Lichtman take you on a scientific quest through psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and other disciplines to uncover the truth about being annoyed. What is the recipe for annoyance? For starters, it should be temporary, unpleasant, and unpredictable, like a boring meeting or mosquito bites
- Gives fascinating, surprising explanations for why people react the way they do to everything from chili peppers to fingernails on a blackboard
- Explains why irrational behavior (like tearing your hair out in traffic) is connected to worthwhile behavior (like staying on task)
- Includes tips for identifying your own irritating habits!
How often can you say you’re happily reading a really Annoying book? The insights are fascinating, the exploration is fun, and the knowledge you gain, if you act like you know everything, can be really annoying.