Thursday, April 24, 2008

Handling Upset Patrons: From the Irate to the Insane

This was a session that I attended at PLA, presented by Warren Graham from Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. He is also known as the Blackbelt Librarian.

Warren discussed the 4 levels of emotion our patrons experience in the library (as well as other places). He added colorful stories of both patron behaviors and common staff behaviors in situations relating to each of the emotional states. These levels of emotion do not occur in any particular order.

A - Anxiety
B - Belligerence
C - Control — as in "out of control"
C - Calm

"Anxiety" is characterized by a patron having a complaint but remains civil. This is when staff need to stop what they are doing, look at the patron, listen to them and show genuine concern.

"Belligerence" is characterized by a patron getting loud and making a scene. Staff need to establish credibility right away ("I can help, but here's what I need from you..."), make eye contact, stay calm, and if you have a barrier (like a desk) keep it. (Staff might experience a fight or flight response, which can be a good thing.)

Why are people like this? Warren states that there are several causes including stress, biases (age, sex, race), mental instability, and some people are just plain mean.

"Out of control" is any time a patron is drunk or on drugs, commits a sexual offence, is threatening or has aggressive movement toward staff or other patrons, or when the patron is told to leave and refuses. Staff should call 911. The patron should be banned to protect the rights of the other patrons and the staff.

"Calm" is just calm. No hay problemo.

Some important institutional roles of dealing with difficult customers:

  • The library should have clear rules of conduct.
  • Staff should have clear guidelines on how to handle situations where the rules are not being followed.
  • Staff should be trained in the rules and guidelines.
  • Staff should be consistent.
  • Staff should not be the behavior problem.

Some things to ask yourself if you work with the public:

  • Am I passive or aggressive in nature?
  • Am I emotional or logical?
  • Am I an introvert or an extrovert?
  • Do I like people?
  • Do I like my job?


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