Friday, June 17, 2011

How Rude!

Let's be honest: there are certain patrons you see coming who make you want to hide, or for your phone to suddenly ring so you don't have to deal with them.  There are just unpleasant people in the world, and in a public library we work with all types.  Mary Kelly wrote about "time suckers" and now it is time to talk about "energy suckers."

Energy suckers come along when everything else seems to be going well.  You're doing your job, your having a good day, you're getting things done...and then Mr. X shows up.  He's obnoxious.  He's demeaning.  He's demanding.  He's also a tax paying member of the community who must be served, whether we like it or not. 

It's a challenge to deal with Mr. X because he sucks the energy and inspiration out of you.  If we're being reeeeeally honest, we can admit that we are probably not quite as outgoing and pleasant to him as we are to patrons we enjoy seeing.  It's true.  We deal with him, we serve him, and we handle him.  In some cases, when he's especially troublesome, we're just shy of rude to him.  We're not proud, but it happens.  He pushes our buttons until our pasted-on happy face is more of a grimace. 

There's only so much we can take, right?  What is the breaking point between putting up with someone and...well, NOT putting up with him?  How bad does someone have to be?  How much abuse are we expected to take?  I wrote a while back about soft skills, which I believe are important.  Soft skills help you cope with situations you find difficult.  I'm talking now about when the situation has gone beyond coping and requires resolution.  Maybe it has happened too often with the same person or maybe the person needs more obvious, more firm talking-to because they don't get a hint. 

Here are my own breaking points:

1. Personal space is important to me.  I don't like to be touched by strangers and I don't like it when people lean in too close.  I often stand with one foot slightly forward and my arms crossed, creating a little more space between myself and the person I'm talking to.  They can't get any closer than my forward foot, and if they're a "toucher" (you know, those people who always touch your elbow or shoulder when they talk), they're only going to get some sleeve...which I can deal with.  I'm willing to accept that this is my issue most of the time - the vast majority of people aren't trying to be creepy, they just don't have any personal space issues so they don't notice their proximity.  If my evasive measures don't work, I will ask them to give me more space.  Not rudely; more apologetically.  If they still don't get it, that's my breaking point.  It has never happened, but I think I would just walk away and get someone else to work with them.

2. Swearing.  I've been known to utter a few strong words in my time.  Not in inappropriate places or situations - I control my vocabulary pretty well most of the time.  I have had patrons go on a tirade about !@#$ politician or !@#$ religious institution or even how !@#$ stupid a book, author, staff member, or local business is.  The worst part is when they try to get you to agree.  I just won't get into political, religious, or other pointed discussions with patrons.  I will ask them what it is that they'd like me to do for them.  I will tell them, straight-up, that I won't make personal comments, but that I'd be glad to look something up for them or find them a book that better suits their tastes.  I will ask them to keep their voice down so that other patrons don't have to hear it.  I will ask them to please watch their language, as this is a place of business. Most of the time they just want to be heard.  Once they get it off their chest, they're fine.  Once you firmly take a stand, they will respect it.  Not always, and that would again be my breaking point.  I will ask someone to leave the building who can not abide by the library's code of behavior policy.

Those are the situations that I find the most difficult.  What are your breaking points?

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