Communication: The act of asssuring a listener that the speaker would be harsh to other people

I find signalling (as in signalling theory) quite fascinating. Basically, individuals sometimes want to communicate their possession of a certain trait (in the broadest sense).

Anyway, the other day I called my bank to have my credit card re-activated (don’t ask).

I give my name, state the problem and ask the lady to fix things. She says “sure”, and then apparently remembers that there is a possible security issue. She then says (admittedly among other things): “Just to make absolutely sure you are who you say, let’s do a few check questions… Did you recently have an amount inserted by a ‘university’?”. “Oh yes, that’s correct”, I confirm. Duh! She was clearly torn between not wanting to offend (“I’m not sure you are who you say you are”) and not wanting me to think that she would let others call in and impersonate me. So the question came out as a weak compromise and she ran the checks not to actually make sure I was me, but to signal to me that she would not just let anyone call in and manage my bank affairs. Either way, it was kind of funny*.

* And reminded me of the Danish TV sketch where a hot female student is taking a chemistry exam. The examiner goes “Were you aware that Sulphuric Acid has the molecular formula H2SO4?”, to which the girl goes “Yes I was”, which utterly impresses the examiner: “Wow, that’s way beyond the curriculum!”.

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