Some of the greatest challenges to my mindfulness practice have come when I was trying to sort an issue out with a bank or cable provider on the phone. I will admit to completely losing my temper more than once, even though I tried really, really hard not to. 

Unless you're a preternaturally calm person, most of us have been in that situation — we have waited on hold for quite some time, finally got to speak with someone, and then had to wait on hold again for another person. Even if you don't get to frustration level 10 with a customer service representative, somehow when you combine your complaint with the waiting, that damn hold music, and your invariable need to pee (or eat), it can result in some less-than-awesome communications. 

While there's no way to create a perfect "on-hold" world — sans mistakes made by either you or the person on the other end of the phone — there are ways to make the experience less fraught with difficulty. These aren't just good ideas for improving the experience of dealing with customer service reps — these are good ideas that have been tested within that specific framework. (Yes, social psychologists have specifically studied how to make the on-hold experience less awful — and I, for one, am grateful for the research.)

One simple solution is to change the telephone hold music, according to a study in the Journal for Applied Social Psychology. In the experiment, elevator music, humanitarian songs and pop songs were played during the "on-hold" time, and the level of anger of the callers was measured. Anger levels were significantly lower when pop music was played. But why?  

“You learn to associate that kind of background music with waiting or complaining — those things that normally happen when you call a call center,” study author Karen Niven, a lecturer at Manchester Business School in England, told Time magazine. “When you have some pop music that you wouldn’t expect to hear, it doesn’t prime those same negative thoughts; it provides something of a buffer.”

Even the people who didn't listen to the music — the call-center employees — benefited from the music change. They were much less exhausted at day's end when they dealt with less-angry people who had listened to pop music. Not a huge shock, but it's great to know that everyone has a better day when tactics like these are used. 

Perhaps researchers can next address the issue that Guy Winch, PhD wrote is a pet peeve of his: "Why does your on-hold message insist that you know my time is valuable at the very moment you’re wasting it? Don’t you see how that could be perceived as passive-aggressive?" 

When in doubt, rely on humor!

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

When you're put on hold, music matters
Waiting on the phone doesn't have to be a completely annoying experience—here's how to fix it.