Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 112–129 | Cite as

When (not) to empathize: The differential effects of combined emotion recognition and empathic concern on client satisfaction across professions

  • Myriam N. BechtoldtEmail author
  • Bianca Beersma
  • Gerben A. van Kleef
Original Paper


Previous research found inconsistent associations between individuals’ emotion recognition ability and their work-related outcomes. This research project focuses on client satisfaction as a core work-related outcome. We argue that service settings differentially affect clients’ emotional goals, activating either socio-affective goals or goals targeting cognitive clarity. In service settings activating clients’ socio-affective goals, clients are expected to respond favorably if service providers combine emotion recognition with high empathic concern; in service settings activating clients’ cognitive clarity goals, clients are expected to respond more favorably if service providers combine emotion recognition with low empathic concern. Study 1 confirmed that service settings differentially affect clients’ emotional goals, with hairdressing settings activating socio-affective goals and psychotherapy settings triggering cognitive clarity goals. Accordingly, hairdressing clients were more satisfied if service providers combined emotion-recognition ability with high trait empathic concern (Study 2). Conversely, in the context of psychotherapy, clients were more satisfied if therapists’ combined emotion-recognition ability with low trait empathic concern (Study 3). Thus, service contexts moderate the effect of affective responses to clients’ emotional signals in a predictable manner.


Emotion recognition Empathic concern Social sharing of emotions Client satisfaction 



We would like to thank Julia Hutzler, Tirza Jung, Michelle Leech, Theano Tolgou, and Peter Winzen who valuably contributed to this research by assisting with the data collection.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Myriam N. Bechtoldt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bianca Beersma
    • 2
  • Gerben A. van Kleef
    • 3
  1. 1.EBS University of Business and LawOestrich-WinkelGermany
  2. 2.Vrije Universiteit AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Universiteit van AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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