Queue Rage – and how to beat it

Queue Rage

Summer’s here, and the queues are getting long – much longer thanks to the covid-regulated distancing now required. Sadly, queues have a way of raising anxiety levels, and sometimes, they’re even behind some unpleasant, even aggressive, behaviour. Interestingly, while some countries are definitely better at queuing than others, culture isn’t so much to blame for poor queuing behaviours – it’s our personal psychology that’s the culprit. And here’s the thing – although the success or failure of a queuing experience depends largely on how it’s managed by those in charge, we can also play a big part in ensuring the wait is far from unpleasant, despite the circumstances. But first – a quick peek at how queuing systems have evolved …

Research shows one of the main factors in queuing frustration is the concept of fairness. If those in multiple queue lines can plainly see someone who arrived later than them gets to conduct their business first, that will incite resentment. One of the first ever solutions to this problem was the invention of the ‘serpentine’ line. No one is quite sure where it came from, but it involves a single queue which splits off at its head to accommodate those in line as staff become available. In other words, everyone gets a fair chance at the bite.

Fairness is also assured in the case of the ‘take a number and wait for it to be displayed’ queuing system, as well as many others. But ‘fairness’ isn’t the only way of ensuring queuers are kept calm. At Disneyland (where queues can get very long), waiting lines are discreetly zig-zagged into a screened-off distance so that queuers don’t feel frustrated by views of the sheer number of people ahead of them. Rumour has it, Disney waiting times are displayed to those in line as being a little longer than they actually are. That’s so queuers feel elated when they discover they’ve reached the head of the queue ahead of time! What’s more, with distraction as one of the best ‘calming’ mechanisms used to quell queuer frustration, Disney is well known for providing so much in-queue entertainment (think Mickey in costume, checking out the queuing kids), those waiting sometimes feel they’ve reached the ‘fun’ before getting to the real thing! While music may not feel like a comfortable distraction when you’re listening to the canned version on the end of a phone queue, it is an important reminder you haven’t been forgotten (which is why we get so anxious when we’re put on hold with nothing but silence at the other end).

These ‘systems’ are all in the domain of the provider. It’s what we can do to help ourselves that really puts the control back in our own hands (and, according to psychologists, being out of control is a major stressor in queuing). Given distraction is a great source of queuing comfort, it’s reassuring we now have mobile phones to resort to. But why not get creative by bringing along the crossword book or the knitting needles, for a change? Break out the sketch pad if you’re an artist, or the note book if you’re a budding novelist (you hear some very interesting conversations while you’re waiting in line!). Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite solve the anxiety around wasted time – another severely distressing factor of queuing. Bringing along some work to do while you wait will help. Pay some online bills, research a cheaper electricity provider, book your holiday accommodation, order your groceries online … the to-do list is endless so why not do it while you wait!

One thing’s for sure, queuing isn’t easy – unless you make it that way for yourself. So, enjoy the tips, skip the stress, and welcome the wait!