[Michlib-l] Staff Disengagement Training

Bedard, Anne Marie abedard at sccl.lib.mi.us
Thu Jul 28 11:52:22 EDT 2016

This isn’t really a “resource,” and definitely not “training,” just my personal experience!  But I’ve found that disengagement is a lot more successful (and easier) when employing a few basic methods and strategies geared toward reframing your departure from the interaction.  Rather than presenting your need to leave as the problem (which tends to make the patron feel devalued), present an external problem that the patron can choose to assist you with:

1.  I always try to do what the first respondent was saying…..Tell the patron that you have to go, BEFORE you actually intend to end the interaction.  So, I would say, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to get back to my project,” then say something else about what the patron was talking about, ask them a question, etc.  This helps to demonstrate that the reason for your departure is to go TO something, not AWAY from them, and that you’re truly interested in the conversation.  After another few sentences I would repeat it, and then the third time actually leave.  This makes it seem to the patron like you stayed with them long after you were supposed to be somewhere else, which makes them feel valued.

2.  When I do tell them I have to break away, I try to imply that the task I’m going to is less pleasant than talking to them would be.   I probably wouldn’t say something like, “I have to get back to work,” because people might tend to hear “work” as something “important” (more important than what they’re saying).  I would probably say, “I have to make a phone call to a patron,” or “I have this report my director is waiting for me to finish,” or something like that.  You can even roll your eyes a little bit as though the task you’re going to is something you’d rather not have to do, so that the person sees you as torn.  They almost always respond to this by offering to “help” you get your task done by wrapping up their comments.

3.   Maintain eye contact and positive body language right to the end of the interchange.  I’ve found that if I start looking away, like looking towards the desk I want to get to, or looking at the phone, or at another staff member, patrons may tend to feel dismissed or like their concerns have become boring.  If you look right at them right up until the end, and smile and sort of lean towards them even as you’re walking away, they tend to believe that you’d prefer to stay and talk with them but you have to leave for reasons beyond your control.

4.  Depending on what it is they’re saying, if I sense that they’re really reluctant to wrap it up, I usually try to find something to say to give the illusion of extending it.  Like, if they’re talking about a research question, I’ll tell them that I’m going to do some further research on it and email it to them (of course you then have to really do it!).  But giving them a piece of paper to write down the question and their email address breaks their flow of speech, and provides them an  additional way to help them feel that they’re taking action and that you’re going to continue to think about them even after they go.  And getting their email gives you a way to send them the info. without having to talk to them again.  In some cases I might walk them over to Reference or offer an interlibrary loan of something.  If they’re just “venting” about something in their life, I try to give them a story of my own that reflects the fact that I totally understand what they’re facing (“I just got my own car insurance bill and it’s up to $229/month”  (true story!!).  Just anything that sort of repeats back to them their point, or shows them that you’ve “gotten” how they feel, will validate them, which might make it seem to them that the conversation has come to a natural end because their goal has been met.

I think a lot of times staff fall into the trap of laying our problems on the patron, as though he/she is a part of them, which leads to bad customer relations.  If you say something like, “I’m working the desk by myself and I have a line of six people waiting,” the patron hears that your life is difficult and he’s just one more annoyance on your plate.  But if you say, “Can we pick this up later; I hate to keep people waiting when they’re ready to check out,” the same person will feel like a million bucks because he just helped you serve six patrons by letting you go.   You’ve basically said the same thing, but the delivery makes all the difference between the person feeling rejected or feeling valued.

It seems to me that most patrons, no matter what they’re saying, are looking for some evidence that they’re important to someone, and when we’re able to make them feel that way they suddenly view the library as a terrifically valuable place.  This is even doubled if we can then find a way to make them feel like they’re playing some role in helping us do the same thing for someone else.  So I always just try to make that my primary goal when a conversation is making me wish I were at the dentist instead!  Unless the person is totally off the map and psychotic (and even sometimes when they are), it usually works pretty well in facilitating a disengagement that doesn’t make anyone uncomfortable.

This ended up longer than I meant it to…..

Anne Marie ☺

Anne Marie Bedard
Librarian II – Circulation
Interlibrary Loan/Reference Librarian
St. Clair County Library
210 McMorran Blvd.
Port Huron, MI 48060
(810) 987-7323 x 143

From: michlib-l-bounces at mcls.org [mailto:michlib-l-bounces at mcls.org] On Behalf Of Kevin King
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2016 10:24 AM
To: Dillon Geshel; Michlib-l at mcls.org
Subject: Re: [Michlib-l] Staff Disengagement Training

How about simply stating, “I would really love to chat with you some more, but I need to get back to work.” In my experience, staff are reluctant to disengage from needy patrons for fear of looking rude. Devoting too much time to one patron at the risk of not attending to another patron’s needs or work that helps all the community is actually rude.

Most of the time this comes down to discussing best tactics with staff and trusting that the staff can manage a difficult customer service interaction. Also remember that each interaction will be different, so it is best to devise plans that will work for different interactions.

Finally, if your staff is reluctant to being proactive then remind them that a key component to working at a public library is the PUBLIC. If you are uncomfortable working with ALL members of the public, then look for another job.

Kevin King
Head, Branch and IT Services
Kalamazoo Public Library
269-553-7881 | kpl.gov/social-media

[cid:image001.jpg at 01D1E8BB.727F9FB0]<http://www.kpl.gov/>

From: michlib-l-bounces at mcls.org<mailto:michlib-l-bounces at mcls.org> [mailto:michlib-l-bounces at mcls.org] On Behalf Of Dillon Geshel
Sent: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 11:34 AM
To: Michlib-l at mcls.org<mailto:Michlib-l at mcls.org>
Subject: [Michlib-l] Staff Disengagement Training

I'm looking for any resources that help library staff deal with disengaging from patron conversations, or finding an appropriate exit point when a conversation is difficult to end.

Dillon Geshel
Library Director
Portage Lake District Library
58 Huron Street, Houghton MI
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