Why You Shouldn’t Berate Unhelpful Comcast Employees

The selfishness inherent in feeling angry means we rarely think about how our anger affects others. But anger does influence people, and one way it does it is by making it easier to be persuaded. For example, anger can elicit more concessions during negotiations.

On the other hand, anger can also reduce persuasion. One recent study suggests that in the the case of customer services representatives, anger can reduce cognitive ability, and that makes it harder for them to understand your request.

In 4 experimental studies, we show that customer verbal aggression impaired the cognitive performance of the targets of this aggression. In Study 1, customers’ verbal aggression reduced recall of customers’ requests. Study 2 extended these findings by showing that customer verbal aggression impaired recognition memory and working memory among employees of a cellular communication provider. In Study 3, the ability to take another’s perspective attenuated the negative effects of customer verbal aggression on participants’ cognitive performance. Study 4 linked customer verbal aggression to quality of task performance, showing a particularly negative influence of aggressive requests delivered by high-status customers. Together, these studies suggest that the effects of even minor aggression from customers can strongly affect the immediate cognitive performance of customer service employees and reduce their task performance.

Some people say that anger is a sign you don’t have a strong argument. This study doesn’t quite touch on that, but it does imply that anger does not complement a strong argument. If you have a reasonable and rationality behind your position, you want the other person at the pinnacle of their cognitive ability so they can better understand it.

Another potential takeaway is that anger can be beneficial if you don’t have a strong argument. If you call Comcast and demand a discount because they screwed you two years ago in a different city, anger may be the way to go. Without a rational argument to fall back on, you would want the customer service rep to be as cognitively impaired as possible.
Rafaeli, A., Erez, A., Derfler-Rozin, R., Treister, D.E., & Scheyer, R. (2012). When customers exhibit verbal aggression, employees pay cognitive costs. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0028559


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