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Time filling instead of yielding pauses

School effect for adults





People who don´t have information requested ready at hand tend to compensate this deficit with talking or uttering murmurs. To ask for a little pause or to announce such a pause in order to get the information meanwhile is not an option at least in the German speaking market. This results from a study recently presented at the Interspeech 2017 in Stockholm by the University of Bielefeld.

In the experiment the setting of a phone call between a travel agent and a customer looking for a particular flight connection was chosen because here any time automatically and naturally there will be a pause between the question and the correct answer since the agent has to look up the variety of options in his computer system.10 test persons participated as agents and had to got through 10 phone calls each with highly different requests and solutions. Actually it has always been the same caller for every agent. All participants wer German native speakers.

The study intended to find out how people use inevitable latencies which lasted between 4 and 50 seconds on average, most cases under 20 seconds. Mostly during the latency agents asked questions (21%), murmured (19%) or addressed what was happening right now (10,4%). Only 6,3% told the customers explictily that there will be a latency and that they have to wait while the requested information is being gathered.

„Beyond On-Hold Messages: Conversational Time-Buying in Task-Oriented Dialogue“, Gabino/Zarrieß/Schlangen, In: Proceeding of SIGdial 2017, 2017.

From practice

Senders believe regularly that pauses could cause harm and thus they try to avoid them. Pauses, they think, would document their lack of knowledge and would therefore convey unease to the receiver. I am labelling this phenomenon „the School effect“ where most of us have made efforts to swindle ourselves through verbal examinations by talking, talking talking – almost regardless what. Teachers in our memory credited talking per se as engagement while pauses in front of the class were considered as horrible evidences of laziness and ignorance.

On the contrary: in professional life pauses do make their point when it comes to digesting the hords of information we all are exposed to. Only with pauses from time to time we are capable of comprehending what someone tries to communicate to us.

But at times a pause can come across negatively: when it takes longer than it should take – here it is always a good advice to connect in between otherwise the sender might lose the receiver´s attention. Or the sender announces this extraordinary pause explicitly to help the receiver to adapt to that unusual long situation of silence. In a typical Telefone all I do recommend to keep pauses between the question and your answer shorter than in a live conversation. Since we cannot see each other we cannot check what is happening right now.

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