What Makes People Impatient
At work the other day, a client called my supervisor. She told her that I wasn’t answering my phone, and questioned if I was really in the office. My supervisor walked over to my cubicle to check on me. I had my phone in my hand, ready to dial the number for the client who’d left me a voicemail five minutes before.
The kicker? When I called the client, she said the proposal her company wanted me to take wasn’t even done yet. What made them so impatient?
A recent study pins the blame on technology. It makes sense: we live in a fast-paced world. In a generation, we’ve gone from “allow 6–8 weeks for shipping and handing” to same-day delivery. We are expected to always be “on,” answering calls, texts, and emails right away.
Our computers are fast. So if something doesn’t load or work right away, it probably won’t work at all.
And we’re in a hurry. As a society, we’re dining out less and getting takeout and fast casual more. We don’t want someone to wait on us. We want to grab our food and go.
I’ve noticed that if something isn’t done within 2 weeks, it has likely been forgotten and won’t be done without me sending a friendly reminder. This includes customer service requests and processed paperwork.
And I’ve been frustrated by 20-minute hold times on calls when I’m trying to make an appointment. I’ve never escalated to a supervisor after five minutes of waiting, but maybe I’ll switch to a place that answers the phone faster, or that takes emailed requests.
Many people, myself included, have expressed frustration at long waits in doctor’s offices. (They even have a specified place for you to sit: the waiting room.) I often ask for the first appointment of the day at medical offices, because I know I’ll be seen right away.
But it was only when I started working at a doctor’s office that I saw firsthand how difficult scheduling can be. Schedule too few patients, and a couple of no-shows can leave the provider doing nothing — which means the office is losing a lot of money. But one computer problem, urgent visit, or emergency can push everyone’s appointment times back.
I’ve been accused of being impatient before, though, when it was clear that no amount of waiting was going to solve the problem. My mailman straight up stopped delivering mail for a little bit, and I didn’t receive an important document I needed for my car.
Complaints to USPS that I wasn’t receiving the mail (that had been scanned on my “Daily Delivery” emails, so I know it was sent) went unanswered. I couldn’t blame my neighbors for stealing my mail: outgoing mail that I left in my mailbox, with the flag up, wasn’t getting picked up either.
After a few weeks of waiting, I had no choice but to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and request another copy of the form. I was about to explain the mail issue, but the clerk cut me off.
“You know, you’re supposed to wait six weeks to receive this before you come in,” she chided. Before I could respond, she handed me the form I needed and called up the next person in line.
No surprise, the mail didn’t come after six weeks. In fact, it never came.
I have also been told I’m impatient at work. I didn’t have access to necessary software, so after 2 1/2 weeks, I put in an IT ticket. Two weeks after that, I hadn’t heard anything, so I followed up — and was promptly told I was being “impatient.”
The problem was finally solved after over a month of waiting — and came in the nick of time, because then when I was the only person around, and was able to get a critical task done.
Some people’s impatience, though, is beyond belief. In the past few days, I’ve witnessed multiple drivers run red lights (one of whom almost crashed into me) or run stop signs. This could be from drivers not paying attention, but often it’s because of impatience.
From time to time I’ve had people honk from behind me at red lights, too. Especially lights with large “No turn on red” signs and a stream of traffic coming my way. Just run it, they urge. I’m in a hurry!
Sometimes, we can feel impatient if we’re bored. In one case, people complained about the wait for elevators in a high-rise building. After mirrors were installed by the elevators, complaints dropped. Why is that?
Once people had something to occupy their time — looking at their reflections — they stopped thinking about the wait.
One thing I like to do when I feel impatient is to keep myself occupied. Waiting for an appointment? I check the news on my phone. Waiting a few days for an online order to arrive? I look at my to-do lists and make calls and get tasks done. By the time I’m done with that, I’ve usually forgotten about my impatience.
We can’t stop construction projects or traffic jams, but we can leave ourselves time to get to where we need to go. If you listen to music or a fun podcast on your commute, the time will fly by.
And we can keep calm and remember that the other people we’re waiting for are only human, too.
As for my client’s impatience? After I received a voicemail at work that started with, “Oh, I didn’t realize you weren’t in…,” I checked my mailbox greeting. I’d had to change it recently, after we had to reset our system.
I realized that my greeting was ambiguous, just saying that I was “away from my desk.” Someone calling from outside really would wonder if I was out for the day.
I recorded a new message that clearly stated what days I would be working, and promised that I’d return any messages as soon as possible. I figured that if I set expectations and reassured people they’d get a response, they’d be more patient. And so far, it’s worked.