Four Enormous Seconds of Silence – UX Planet
What can you do in four seconds? You’re probably struggling to think of much, but mere seconds can actually have a huge impact when it comes to UX research. And it’s actually not a question of what you can do with those seconds, it’s what you can stop yourself from doing. Thanks to evolution, humans have a desire to fill gaps in conversations. While this is useful in many circumstances, it can be detrimental when it comes to user research.
UX researchers are empathetic people whose literal job is to understand what makes users tick. We tend to enjoy our conversations with them, try to learn as much as we can, and are always thinking ahead to how our findings can impact the product or service. We also want to make users feel as comfortable as possible. They are, after all, offering us invaluable insights and their time. With all of that in mind, we may feel the need to be extremely friendly and outgoing to create a pleasant experience. Chances are, we will find ourselves jumping in to fill “uncomfortable” silences.
Why is it that we are so inclined to fill those silences? And I’m not just talking about UX researchers here. In general, humans are social creatures. We want to form connections with those around us. Evolutionarily speaking, forming bonds with other humans was a key part to survival. Today, although it may not directly impact survival, being talkative and outgoing are seen as desirable traits. Long story short, it goes against our actual DNA to let silences go unfilled.
But how long is too long? When do we truly become uncomfortable with silence?
“What does the science say about how long a “prolonged” silence actually is before it becomes awkward for us? In many cultures, including the United States, it is just four seconds.” -James Sudakow
Four seconds. How can that be? A matter of seconds sounds so short (unless of course, we’re talking about microwave seconds). But in reality, four seconds in a conversation is enough to cause people to squirm. This knowledge can have a huge impact on the way you perform research. Without it, you may find yourself talking to break the silence when you realize the user has started speaking at the exact same time. I’ve noticed this happening in user research I have performed as well as plenty of sessions I’ve observed. It results in awkward apologies and potentially missed knowledge.
So, what can you do about it? Well, if people become uncomfortable with silence after a mere four seconds, count to four. And then wait just a few seconds longer. If you are looking for the user to elaborate, they will jump in to fill the silence. You aren’t the only one who will feel uncomfortable, but you do have the knowledge to sit back and see what happens. The user may provide the information you would not have gotten had you continued gung-ho through your script of questions.
Remember, when you want to fill the “uncomfortable” silence, count to four — and then just a few more.
Have you tried a trick like this? Let me know if it’s worked well or if you have other suggestions!