When businesses thank you for your patience, they’re treating you like a dog — one of Pavlov’s dogs.

By Laura Bergells on
Pavlov's dog conditioner

I often act patient, even when I don’t feel it. I’ll bet you have, too.

We’ve been conditioned.

Let’s say you been on hold with customer service for what seems like forever. One of the first things the phone rep might say is “thank you for your patience.”

They’ve been trained to say it. But you?

You’re not feeling patient. You’re feeling the exact opposite of patient.

“Thank you for your sarcasm,” you want to reply. But don’t.

Because that’s not how we’ve been trained to play the ‘thank you for your patience’ game. The rules of this social situation say “You can’t be authentic. You must pretend to be patient.”

So you sigh, choke down your fury, and move the conversation forward. You’re also aware the ‘thank you for your patience’ game took another 3 seconds of your time. This further erodes your already frayed pretend-patience.

The patience game is oh-so tedious. You’d rather not play it, but what can you do?

Always a dog, tugging a rope

The other day, I saw a sign attached to a velvet rope. A business was training customers to snake through a queue to get to three harried customer service reps. The sad little sign read — you guessed it:

“Thank you for your patience.”

But few people looked patient. Most looked annoyed and/or weary.

Some looked resigned to their fate. These more placid people had whipped out their phones and were amusing themselves while they waited.

But you? You have some degree of emotional intelligence. You know ‘resigned to your fate’ is a far different feeling than ‘patience’.

The sad little velvet rope sign could have more truthfully read,

“You might be waiting in line a long time. Management would appreciate it if you could resign yourself to this fate.”

Why don't you thank me for my patience one more time?

Businesses who ‘thank you for your patience’ plan to inconvenience you. They know in advance they have a problem. They could have invested in resources. They could innovate. They could choose to handle your issue promptly — but they didn’t.

They decided it’s cheaper to make a sign. Or it’s easier to tell a frazzled front-line employee to utter some clichéd words in an attempt to soothe you into compliance.

“Thank you for your patience” relies on behavioral conditioning. It’s a blatant attempt to cow customers into acting in a way that’s not authentic.

It’s Pavlovian. You hear “thank you for your patience” – and you might actually simmer down for a few seconds. You know it’s not the front-line rep’s fault. You want to snap — but you probably won’t.

Not yet. But all that’s changing.

You might not have to play the ‘thank you for your patience’ game too much longer. Some new signs are cropping up. Your natural, authentic impatience is being recognized and rewarded.

  • Wait in line at a movie? Or download it instantly from home?
  • Wait in line for returns? Or download an app?
  • Go to the store? Or have the store come to you?

Industry leaders in customer service are putting out new signs. All these signs say:

“Thank you for your impatience. You’re inspiring us to innovate as fast as we can.”

Consequently, your behavior will change. You will find yourself losing an enormous amount of patience with businesses that thank you for your patience.

You will not be loyal. You will not comply. You will not be obedient.

But for the moment, you might still have to work with a company that relies on you to fake some patience. Take heart. These companies might not be around much longer.

Until they’re gone for good, play your own game. Count how many times you hear and see ‘thank you for your patience’ for the rest of the year. Note the businesses that have invested in this Pavlovian practice.

Then, see how much longer they last. Maybe our impatience will finally be rewarded.


Laura has decades of experience as a business communication coach. She has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and leads workshops on effective communication. You can find Laura on Twitter and at YouTube.

Check out her courses on LinkedIn Learning: Crisis Communication and Public Speaking.