2.26.2009

Getting through the work day

I think we all have those moments at work (or school, or wherever) where we feel that our brain is possibly going to start leaking out of our ears. My moments come when I deal with certain members of the public and I find myself saying things like "Seriously, I have 4 buttons on my screen and NONE of them will do the [completely unrealistic and unreasonable] thing you want me to do. And no, you can not touch my computer."

I am slowly learning ways to save brain matter, though. Here are a few tips and tricks I now keep at the ready in my arsenal.

For problems like the one above, I bring out this one: "I'm sorry, I did try." As in, sure, I actually pushed all four buttons and it looks like they really WON'T do the thing that you want. This may or may not be true, but then it stops people from parroting the words of, "But have you tried?" "Could you just try, though?" "How about if I take a look at your computer and try it?" See how it's better to just skip all that right in the beginning? I promise you it is.

When someone seems like a crazed schizophrenic who is about to ask me to look up the addresses and phone numbers of, say, all the chamber of commerce offices in mainland China, a good thing to do is to start asking a lot of questions to narrow down what it is he actually wants. Or, you know, even just one or two. He will get freaked out and retreat rather than be interrogated, and will then cast me furtive looks for the rest of the day because I am probably one of the many people tapping his phone. Who knew the Reference Interview could be such a handy tool?

When phoning the police to report that the drunken men refuse to leave the building, I must use the right vocabulary--words like "belligerent," "refusal," "disturbance," and "afraid it might get physical" are good if I want them to come in the next 30 minutes. One that will get them there pronto is "I think he may have a gun." (Note: may lose effectiveness if used too often.)

When someone says they want a "book on tape," I now clarify immediately by asking if they want it on tape or cd. Because 9 times out of 10 they actually mean cd and will look at me in a befuddled or even accusatory way if you bring forth an actual book recorded on a tape. Same when people ask me for a video. They actually want a DVD.

If I'm explaining how to do something for the first time (logging on to the computer, using the printer, performing a catalog search, etc.), I actually show them how to do it right there in the beginning. If I don't, there's a good chance I'll just have to do it later, and this will be after they've become frustrated by the whole business. I'm doing both of us a favor.

When someone silently holds out their wadded up bits of paper to me (the implication being that I should throw it away for them because I am the Trash Slave), I like to have fun with it. I ask what it is they're trying to hand me. "Is it a secret note? Because secret notes are fun. Oh, it's trash? I see, and are you asking me to throw it away for you?" Even if this doesn't help people remember to use their manners (or their words), it's still fun to NOT play along.

When someone walks up to you and offers up the preamble, "Now, are you aware of the fact that . . . ," I just go straight to my Happy Place. I may be there for awhile.

So. I realize that all of our jobs/schools/families/ways we spend our lives are different, but I would love to hear your tips as well. I'm pretty sure a lot of them will be universal, and I could always use some more!

17 comments:

Holliberry Guttersnipe said... [reply]

My favorite trick is one that I learned from my boss, and I would think it would work in many work settings, but possibly not a library. When we get a particularly chatty client in the office, and they appear as though they may never leave, she will walk with them towards the door. People will generally follow you in a conversation. If they still don't catch on, she'll open the door for them. She has even gone as far as walking them out to their car and then backing towards the office as she says goodbye. They usually don't even know what hit them.

Mrs. Hass-Bark said... [reply]

I like to pull the old "University/corporate/department policy prohibits whatever unreasonable/illegal/unethical thing you are asking me to do." trick. It works nearly every time and has gotten me out of a lot of sticky situations.

Audra said... [reply]

I've done the "it's not me who is the bad guy... it is my supervisor who says no". My supervisor did not mind and even encourages it. Because I was the one directly working for a particularly volitale segment of the population and I had to go into their homes. It was better for them to be mad at someone they never have and never will see!

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

If someone says, "Not to be rude or anything . . . " before they speak, they are going to be rude. Just brace yourself.

And when dealing with teenagers, always make the rules be the bad guy. This only works if the rules are clear and reinforced consistently. (Oh, this works on toddlers too: it is amazing how all those sweet skills can translate to home life.)

Desmama said... [reply]

I can't believe people would actually hold out their trash for you to toss. That makes me just gape!

Bridget said... [reply]

I think I might be one of the "book on tape" people. I know they've been available on CD for a long time now but I just can't make my mouth say the right words. Does "audiobook" work?

jeri said... [reply]

I guess there's something to be said for having a small-town library. They may not have a wide selection of books but the last 'disturbance' that I witnessed was when Bart crashed into the Collected Works of Jane Austen display. I did pick it up and apologize a lot but I don't think anyone phoned the police.

daltongirl said... [reply]

This is one of the biggest benefits of working at home. Sure, the pay is not so good, but you can be really snarky to your customers (read: family) and who are they going to complain to? God? Less effective, because right before I sense that they are going to do that, I remember to tell them, "You CHOSE this family, okay?" Try this at the library. It might work. Or it might scare people away, which would be just as good.

Also, at home you can hand trash to your kids and make them throw it away. They will also fetch things. Because they want you to be in a good mood/cook for them.

Greeneyes said... [reply]

First time commenter here, and I have to say that your life observations are spot on. And hysterical.

Here's a tactic that works more for the crazy/belligerent/rude co-worker, but it could be stretched to apply to the crazy/belligerent/rude library patrons as well...

When my former boss would make wackadoo requests or just resort to jerk-dom, my little magic trick was to rephrase his words right back to him. "So, what you're saying is..." or "What I'm hearing from you is..."

When most folks hear just how out of line they sound, sometimes it snaps them into place. {Of course you do risk getting the immensely unsatisfying response of, "Yeah, of COURSE that's what I'm saying."}

p.s. Word verification is "shidlyst". So we're discussing coping skills to deal with folks on our "lyst"? ; )

Nemesis said... [reply]

Holliberry, this IS a good one. I do a modified "start standing up and gathering papers" version when I'm pinned at the reference desk.

Yeah, it's lovely sometimes to be a Rules Girl, Hass.

Audra, that is a good point. I am glad no one ever killed you when you had that job.

STM, the teenagers are such a funny group. On their own or with one other friend they can be delightful, but as soon as the group gets bigger . . . this is why that Octuplet mom is going to want to kill herself in about 13 years if the state hasn't taken away her kids by then.

Desmama, yeah. They do that. This guy was a postal worker and I would not be surprised to one day read that he'd gone crazy and shot everyone at the post office.

Bridget, audiobook is probably the most accurate term (although there's still a company out there called Books on Tape which produces, you guessed it, books on cd, because they are the devil). But even if you said audiobook I would ask you if you want a tape or cd. It's amazing how ornery some people can be when you bring out the wrong thing! "But this is a tape! I don't HAVE a tape recorder at my house!" (Because I know that and just wanted to mess with their heads) Now that I know it's just a term people use I make sure to check and save myself the trouble. :-)

It's funny, Jeri. My branch is in a pretty quiet area. It's mostly senior citizens, a few young families, the afterschool rabble, and The Crazies. It's just too bad that the last two groups require all the attention.

Daltongirl, you are right. Should figure out a way to quit work and go be the King of Town at my house. And get some minions to boss.

La Yen said... [reply]

Pancakes. I think about pancakes. How I love them and want to eat them. All different kinds. Lingonberries, cream cheese, syrup, all the toppings. It puts a smile on my face and makes me pleasant.

And that is how I get through six hour visits with non-English-Speaking Abuela-in-Law, discussions with husband about whatever it is he does at Army all day, and everyone I come in contact with at church.

pinky said... [reply]

When I get a really onry customer in the office I basically just tune them out. I have been known to hold the phone away from my ear while a customer is ranting and raving. Ha ha. Probably not the best customer service ever but sometimes I get really annoyed!!!

apinkypromise.blogspot.com

MBC said... [reply]

Ahhh, coping BEFORE your head explodes. Interesting. I usually wait until I can barely function from frustration, storm into the closest workroom, fume at a co-worker about patrons/cell phones/society and then go searching for chocolate in the tech services department (somehow, they always seem to have some and they don't even need it--they don't work with the public).

chosha said... [reply]

I like the word 'obviously' for pointing out that someone's request is unreasonable. Like for example, 'obviously I can't discuss government regulation that hasn't yet been approved...' or 'obviously I can't email you another company's confidential business plan...'

At least I mostly deal with that kind of request on the phone. They can probably hear that I'm rolling my eyes, but they can't prove it!

Polly said... [reply]

So I mostly deal with crazy parents and sadly my job involves making sure they feel satisfied with their visit. One day in the middle of a physical the mom answered her cell phone a shushed me. I walked out of the room and made them wait until I had seen several other patients. My favorite though is the phone call in the middle of the night to ask aquestions about vitamins, or is it normal for their kid to be coughing for 4 weeks and could I make an appointment for them? My response to these questions is " I am at home in bed with my husband. This will wait until office hours." and I hang up. Note- if you call with a real emergency I do not hang up on you. I am also good at the sympathetic head nod, slight smile while listening to the tenth description of some kids poop for the day.

Polly said... [reply]

That came out all wrong, I mostly deal with nice parents- but there are always a few crazies. And almost all 1st time moms get a little anxious/crazy and some point but that is expected and not annoying.

Amy said... [reply]

I use this less and less now that I've been at the library for a while, but it still works in certain situations. I like to call it the 'Ol Bait and Switch. When dealing with a particularly intractable patron, I will sometimes go into the Back where Mysterious and Authoritative things happen and grab someone (often a supervisor, but it's not necessary) to come talk to them. For some reason I am unable to fathom, some people need to not only hear things twice, but from two different people. I have literally sat there and explained the same thing to the patron ten different ways for almost twenty minutes, and then finally given up and gotten my co-worker (who is not my supervisor and in fact was hired after me) who then proceeded to tell the patron the exact same thing I had been telling them in near the exact same wording, and they have understood and left, apparently satisfied.
But hey, whatever works.

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