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Humans Like To Talk At the Same Time

The abbreviated post-Labor Day work week has everyone thinking it's Wednesday, days of drenching rain has Washingtonians complaining they have Seasonal Affective Disorder in early September, and the president's big jobs speech to Congress tonight is going to mess up some football game.

Four-day work weeks are always weird because everything feels so off-kilter with strange bursts of activity at what feel like the wrong times, which, it turns out, is a lot like our communication pattern! A new study finds humans communicate in short bursts followed by bouts of silence. Seems obvious, until you discover this communication pattern holds true whether we're communicating on the internet, by e-mail, over the phone, or via the stock market. How cool is that? When it comes to talking, we're hot then we're cold, we're yes then we're no, we're in then we're out, we're up then we're down -- or some other non-Katy Perry-inspired description of human interaction. According to the researchers, who analyzed a mind-boggling 9 billion phone calls over the course of a year:
The effect of the bursts is that it slows down the information diffusion since the large periods of inactivity in the communication between two persons make it less likely that information is passed from one to the other. The study also highlights another important aspect of human communications: in group conversations, that is, although it is produced in bursts, these bursts happen at the same time among the members of the social group, which then accelerates information diffusion within these groups.

So what does it all mean for the workplace? Well, it's not your imagination if you've ever noticed how employees can be very quiet around the conference table and then suddenly everyone is talking all at once. Or there's a flurry of messages when it was quiet five minutes ago, and along the way information is shared. One at a time, please! I can't hear myself think! Geez!

Message: We talk, then we don't, and most likely all at the same time. It's like verbal PMS where our human cycles get in sync and then we're all in a bad mood together. Shh! Now we just need a five-day work week to get our minds back in sync so we can annoy each other even more.


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