Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How to handle difficult situations

Jennifer Steward, a Circulation Analyst with Multnomah County Library, is posting today about dealing with difficult patron situations. She and Lisa Canavan presented on that topic at the 2011 OLS-SSD conference.

"There’s a problem with my library card!"

Does that make you cringe or prepare for battle?

Perhaps there is a third option? What I try to do is guide the patron to a place where we can work things out together. Here are two things you can do to guide interactions toward collaboration and not let them spiral into real problems.

Set the tone.
Your goal is to be calm, polite and helpful - even if the patron isn’t. The patron will usually rise to your standard. Try not to absorb any anger/fear/anxiety that comes your way. By setting the tone, you are also teaching the patron how to treat you.

Be aware of feelings – both yours and the patron’s.
Think about your feelings. If you seem fearful, some people may bully you. If you are dismayed that patrons get fines, you may seem judgmental. If you are determined to prove that you are in the right, you may seem combative. What do you need to do to get into a collaborative place?

Think about the patron’s feelings. What looks like anger is often fear. Does the patron think she’s "in trouble" or fear that she won’t be able to use the library? Does she need to connect with you emotionally – by being listened to or reassured - before she can hear the practical options available to her? What does she need from you to move from conflict to collaboration?

While some patrons may be too upset to follow you into collaboration, you may be surprised how many will. For me, it is also important to know that even if things don’t end well, I know that I remained polite and respectful, even under pressure. Woo-hoo!

For more information on customer service and collaboration, try Great customer connections by Richard S. Gallagher and Radical Collaboration by James W. Tamm and Ronald J. Luyet.

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