Dissonance and a Trip to the Grocery Store

DissonanceNoun. “A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.”

A couple recent humorous experiences on the receiving end of customer service have gotten me thinking about the disastrous role dissonance plays in business.



Waiting in line for a cashier at a grocery store, I got to observe a two-minute sample of the manager’s style. In fact, everybody got to observe it. She was loud, as upbeat as upbeat can get, in-your-face enthusiastic. She bounced from lane to lane, calling out to customers, “I have a short wait for awesome Angela in lane 3!” Her sing-song inflection sounded more appropriate for toddler daycare. “Yay for Angela!!!” “Hey everyone! I have no wait at lane 6 for Leslie! The loquacious Leslie! Haha! Ever loquacious!” Leslie didn’t seem amused. “What does loquacious even mean?” “It means you’re always talking!”

It might not have seemed quite as strange–enthusiasm and fun isn’t bad. But all of the cashiers were quiet, calm, and formal–they even looked frustrated and a little offended. The manager just didn’t match the rest of the team. If everyone had been as bubbly as the manager, it might have been a fun experience for all us customers. Or if the manager had been positive and enthusiastic, but a little less AAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!, the whole picture might have been less weird.


I was sitting with a young adult friend at a big, mainstream, “progressive” bank. She was opening up new accounts and we were hitting it off chatting with our personal banker. He was a nice, genuine guy–the kind you can tell isn’t just selling “nice” to you. They were chatting about soccer–their common interest–when up walked a younger, dressed-to-a-tee manager. He jumped right in, cutting the banker off mid-sentence. “Hi! I’m Alan! I’m the manager here, and I’m very excited you’re here. John will take very good care of you!” (John was taking good care of us before you cut him off!). Alan patted John patronizingly on the shoulder.

John looked a little disgusted. But not surprised. Like he was used to his manager butting in and derailing the meeting. He had quite successfully changed the tone from a genuine, friendly one to a cookie-cutter, fake, impersonal one. “Here’s my card! Again, my name is Alan and I’m the manager, so if you ever need anything at all, please let me know! It was really great to meet you guys!” He turned and walked away. He left us feeling jarred and confused. What just happened?

It was very obnoxious. It’s like if you were listening to a calm, relaxing acoustic artist and suddenly Skrillex jumps in with a massive bass drop, throws some big electronic squawking your direction, and then turns and walks away, leaving the acoustic music to clean up after him. It just doesn’t mix. #dontask #kidsthesedays


Thinking back to those experiences–both managers gave great examples of general management “don’t”s: Don’t call your employee loquacious. Don’t interrupt your employee’s conversation. The list goes on.

But those mistakes wouldn’t have done so much damage to the brand on their own. What was most damaging was the dissonance. The grocery store manager didn’t match her cashiers. Taken alone, either side could have connected with their customers, but watching the intense clash uncovered the fakeness: There was no genuine team happening there. And the bank manager. Maybe he was just a more outgoing, bubbly personality. But if you’re going to interrupt a friendly conversation, make it fitting.

Do loud, crazy, fun, hilarious, intense. Or do calm, quiet, professional. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. But when you’re presenting a brand, there can’t be such a mismatch–especially all in your face, all at the same time.

It’s like unbearably obnoxious music. As a customer, I just don’t want to be around it.

Author: Peter Elbridge

I have a passion for helping others, and that is why I write. I believe that sharing our experiences and discoveries in life is the best way to make a difference. After all, we're all in this together. (My opinions and endorsements are my own and do not represent my employer.)

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