Avoid “Anger” When Responding to False Accusations


In a meeting, Johnathon lashed out at a Jose, “You had no authority to tell the customer the item was under warranty.  It clearly is not.  Your response made the customer mad.  Now, he is filing a complaint about me.”   

Jose’s face reddened and he angrily responded, “Don’t blame me for that.  I told the customer no such thing.  You were rude.  That’s why he is filing a complaint.”

Experiments by Michael Blanding, written in HBS Working Knowledge, suggest that anger makes a wrongly accused person look guilty.  While there may be reason to be upset when falsely accused, voice tone and nonverbal expressions are likely to carry more weight than facts. 

 Jose may have been more convincing if he had maintained his composure and responded in a calm voice with something like, “Johnathon, I see you are upset by the customer’s complaint.  Can you fill me in on the details?  My hope is to clarify the situation and resolve the customer’s issue.” 

Previous research has well documented the impact of voice tone and nonverbals on how others attach meaning to verbal expressions.  This appears to be particularly true when responding to false accusations. 

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