The Tyranny of the Line: Which Types Can’t Stand the Wait?

Every year, Americans spend an estimated 37 billion hours waiting in line – and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who enjoys it. At best, waiting in line is an inconvenience – at worst, it can feel like a mild form of torture.

Much research has been done on the psychology of queuing, and as a result, customer service and retail outlets worldwide have attempted to improve the experience of waiting in line. Televisions in airport terminals should help distract us from the boredom of waiting; a single serpentine line at the bank should help us feel that the line is proceeding fairly; estimated wait times for theme park rides should help us feel patient by managing our expectations.

But how well do these strategies work? Why does it seem that every week there’s a new viral video of someone losing their mind in line? Are there some personality types who just can’t help feeling anxious in lines?

To find out, we asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You get nervous when you have to wait in line.” Although their overall agreement was relatively low (36%), a few key personality traits have a definite influence on our tendency to experience line-induced anxiety.

Which traits are most likely to make waiting in line feel unbearable? Don’t get too antsy – we’ve queued up some answers for you below.


Diplomats and Analysts (43% and 40% agreeing)

For the Intuitive Diplomats and Analysts, the world is a place of limitless possibility, and a line may represent an abhorrent circumscription of this ideal. In fact, Intuitive personality types were 12% more likely than Observant types to say that waiting in line makes them nervous. The physical inertia of waiting in line invites mental boredom, presenting the perfect opportunity for Intuitive types’ highly active imaginations to run wild, for better or worse. If other stressful factors are involved, like potentially missing a critical appointment, Intuitive personalities will probably spend their time in line imagining all the consequences of being stuck there, becoming increasingly restless and nervous.

Sensitive Diplomats may object to the thought of being placed in an impersonal queue. Feeling more like herded cattle than human beings, they’ll be eager to escape as soon as possible. Logical Analyst personalities, on the other hand, are likely to see inefficiency in a slow line, grumbling that no one has come up with a better solution than the inexorable time sink in which they currently find themselves.

Explorers and Sentinels (31% and 30%)

Although probably no more thrilled than Analysts and Diplomats at the sight of a long line, Explorers and Sentinels, as practically minded personality types, are more accepting of the inevitability of waiting. Their Observant trait makes them very pragmatic about the fact that everyone in line is trying to accomplish the same thing and will simply have to wait their turn to do so.

Explorers, who try to make the most of every moment, might find clever ways to entertain themselves or make their surroundings more enjoyable. Sentinels, for their part, may take a measure of satisfaction in the inherent orderliness of lines. These personality types see their options as waiting in line or chaos, and they certainly don’t like chaos. For them, the line is just one unpleasant part of working within a system organized by rules.


Constant Improvement (56% agreeing)

Our readers’ Mind and Identity traits played an even bigger role in whether waiting in line makes them nervous, and the Introverted, Turbulent personality types who belong to the Constant Improvement Strategy topped the list. Introverts were 18% more likely to agree with our statement than Extraverts, and Turbulent types were 27% more likely than Assertive types. Why? Consider that waiting in line not only saps time from us, but it also forces us into close proximity with strangers, and that can test our sense of social and emotional security, along with our patience.

The socially exposed position of waiting in line can be highly uncomfortable for Introverts, a feeling that is compounded for Turbulent personalities, who are susceptible to stress and emotional reactions. Constant Improvers can come down hard on themselves for anything, including choosing the slow line (and don’t we always seem to choose the slow line?), but finding themselves in a situation they can’t control may be all the more frustrating.

Turbulent Advocates were the personality type most likely to agree that they get nervous waiting in line (61%). Although Advocates love to think of themselves as working in the service of other people, the tediously bureaucratic nature of a line can drain that goodwill. As helpless to change a slow-moving queue as the person ahead of or behind them, Advocates may quickly grow anxious about being unable to use their time more productively (and much more creatively).

Social Engagement (39%)

The members of the Social Engagement Strategy, although also Turbulent, are helped quite a bit by their Extraversion when it comes to waiting in line. They’re still more prone to getting stressed out than Assertive personality types are, but they might actually find the busy social environment of a line stimulating in a positive way. They might initiate conversations with other people in line, and if others around them are acting relaxed, they’ll relax too.

Confident Individualism (26%)

It might seem surprising that the Introverts belonging to the Confident Individualism Strategy don’t have more of a problem with lines, given their fierce independence. While it’s probably true that Confident Individualists will do whatever they can to avoid a line in the first place, their Assertive Identity balances out that natural aversion. If these personalities have to wait in line, they have to wait in line – there’s no use getting worked up about it.

People Mastery (19%)

The People Mastery Strategy, defined by its Extraverted, Assertive personality types, proved to be the most comfortable with waiting in line. People Masters not only crave social excitement, but they also have the self-assured nature to endure delays. These types are the most likely to turn a long line into an adventure, chatting with people and making jokes, trying to make the experience fun for everyone. And should the situation call for it, People Masters would have no problem stepping up to take charge of the orderliness and efficiency of the line.

Of all the personality types, Assertive Consuls were the least likely to feel nervous in line (13%). Rather than seeing lines as masses of undifferentiated humanity standing between them and their goal, Consuls see individuals sharing a common experience, and as “people people,” they may look forward to the opportunity to make friends of these strangers.


Although waiting in line is a social experience, typically spent around people who we have never seen before and likely will never see again, it is perhaps even more intensely a psychological phenomenon. How we deal with being forced to wait – of having what we want deferred in such a tangible way – can tell us much about who we are.

If you experience anxiety while waiting in line, especially if you have Introverted, Turbulent, or Intuitive personality traits, try a new strategy the next time you’re stuck in a long line. Bring something to read, or go out on a limb and strike up a conversation with a stranger. It won’t make the line move faster, but it might at least make the wait feel shorter.

How well do you tolerate the experience of waiting in line? Let us know in the comments below!

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, here. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

2 months ago
Occasionally, I actually like having to wait in a line because it gives me a chance/excuse to slow down and take a break from whatever busy thing I'm doing. In a line, I can let my mind and imagination wander free since I don't have to physically do anything. Of course, this effect disappears if I'm in a ridiculously long or slow line.
2 months ago
Same, (also an INFJ).
3 months ago
I HATE LINES. I have much better things to do with my 5 minutes...
3 months ago
Hahaha strike up a conversation with a stranger? My fear IS that someone will do that lol
3 months ago
I had the misfortune of being stuck for 90 minutes at a line at the bank. The factor that drove me (an INTJ) mad, was the utter lack of efficiency of the bank. Of the 5 windows available only 3 were staffed. I had no qualms in pulling over the bank manager hovering over the crowds and asking her about the inefficiency. As an INTJ, I didn't mince my words either and told my point of view directly and with restraint. She gave a wishy-washy answer that one person was ill. My intraversion went out the window, as I started to joke with the people in the queue. These jokes turned into small talk. Later, I lodged a complaint with the head office, which landed up with me talking to the branch manager. She did just enough for me not to pursue the matter further. The problem is that this is my home branch, and I couldn't trown a full-blown tantrum. Background: In South Africa we have 4 major banks. The few minor banks I don't trust. To switch to a different bank is a logistical and nightmare, and the service is not necessarly better.
3 months ago
It's fine standing being in the queue, but if someone decides to jump the queue...Usually a light tab on their shoulder and a glare combination works alright. I'm a fairly patient person. I mean, I've survived being in contact with incompetent people for my whole life. I'm trained for this. This has nothing against me.
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