When employees sabotage customers who mistreat them

Dr. Julena Bonner is a professor in Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business whose research has examined what happens in the work place when an employee retaliates against a hostile customer.

She said these hostile reactions lead to what are called snap moral judgements.

“They lead us to justify or rationalize our bad behavior,” said Bonner, “by dehumanizing or devaluing that person that has mistreated us.”

The research from Dr. Bonner and her team suggests ways to better respond to an upset customer.

“If we can remind ourselves to be mindful of the situation and remind ourselves that we still need to treat people with dignity and respect, even though we’re being mistreated by them, that can help break those intuitive responses that occur.”

The paper written by Dr. Bonner and three colleagues appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Bonner and her research team wanted to study what causes us to behave this way, and whether that behavior can be moderated by environmental factors.

She said employers can teach employees to properly respond to harsh or angry customers without sabotage by offering mindfulness training or by putting employees in role playing scenarios where they must practice proper responses to antagonistic customers.

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