BGU finds new way of thinking about waiting, and it may calm you down

We can influence the perception of the wait time and thus manage aggression by priming people to think more concretely, new research by BGU shows.

A man speaks on the phone whilst sitting at his desk in his office. (Illustrative) (photo credit: PXFUEL)
A man speaks on the phone whilst sitting at his desk in his office. (Illustrative)
(photo credit: PXFUEL)
It's better to think that your late employee is stuck in traffic than thinking they are disrespecting you when they are late to a meeting, a new study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in cooperation with the University of British Columbia (UBC) shows.
The report looked into how people react to waiting, in a work environment in particular, and how it may be managed in order to reduce the aggression that may come as a result.
“We spend a part of our daily life waiting, and unfortunately, wait time can fuel aggressive tendencies,” said Dr. Dorit Efrat-Treister from the BGU Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. "Our study examines the relationship between wait time, perceived wait time, and aggressive tendencies from a construal level perspective."
Efrat-Treister explained that "we can influence the perception of the wait time and thus manage aggression" by priming people to think more concretely.
Usually, abstract thinking may lead to better outcomes, including creativity, wider vision and a stronger sense of power. However, the paper published by Efrat-Treister and UBC researchers Sandra Robinson and Michael Daniels in the Journal of Organizational Behavior shows that abstract thinking may also lead to less-than-ideal results within situations that may be deemed stressful, such as the example of waiting.
Efrat-Treister said that an example would be if "someone is late for a call," explaining that "if you think abstractly, you may think they don’t respect your time, or they don’t think the call is important, and therefore you might become angry. But if you think they may have just misplaced your number or gotten another call first, you won’t become so annoyed."
Participants in the experiments were told that their partners were late to the lab. They were placed in separate rooms and waited for 30 seconds, five minutes or 10 minutes. According to the BGU press release, "Those that were prompted to think abstractly perceived the waiting time as longer, and reacted more aggressively than those who were led to think concretely."
The participants pertaining to generations Y (millenials) and Z had a particularly difficult time without their cell phones during the wait and fidgeted a lot. They also had self-reported high levels of aggression after waiting for short periods.
Priming people to think more concretely may allow managers to reduce the perception of wait time without adding resources, which may be costly and difficult. For example, "the leader of a meeting can focus on getting started and on the agenda rather than focusing on why a partner is late," Efrat-Treister said. "Any concrete focus that prevents abstract thinking about waiting can be helpful," Efrat-Treister said.