Table Talk: Public Encounters

With thirty minutes left in the day, I’m trying to meet my goal of writing daily. Trying to think of what to write about, I reflected upon my day and the one thing that popped into my head was dealing with the public.

As a public servant, I could write a book on daily encounters. There are all walks of life that a library caters to and everyday has its amusements. I could write a book on the things I see and deal with everyday. In fact, there are several books out there (and one in particular that a friend recommended when I was considering switching careers to a library assistant; “Quiet, Please: Dispatches From A Public Librarian” by Scott Douglas pretty much describes my daily life) that accurately describe some of things public servants have to face on a daily basis, and even more when you add customer service.

“So how do you handle it?”

Here are five things I keep in mind when working with the public:

  1. Genuinely Smile – I know it doesn’t seem like much advice, but I find a genuine smile disarms someone who is irritated or frustrated much faster than when you don’t and it makes already happy people, happier. I also find that when I smile, it reminds me to be patient.
  2. Genuinely Listen – This is the hardest part, but I realized that most people who are frustrated or upset just wants someone to listen. Usually, when I just shut my mouth, smile, and listen to what they have to say in the middle of their complaint they acknowledge that I have nothing to do with their frustration and move the blame to the system/the man/the fill-in-the-blank. Some of them even apologize for complaining to me about it. I also realize that some of the people who come into the library just want company–they’re lonely, they don’t get out much, no one visits them. Sometimes they just want a connection.
  3. Laugh – Yes, laugh. Laughter and humor are the best remedies for a chaotic day. It lightens the mood even when it’s overwhelming. With some of the stuff you see and deal with in public service … yeah, laughing at yourself, the situation, just the day, helps. I usually blame the day, week, holiday i.e. “It must be Tuesday/the full moon/New Years.”
  4. Treat Others How You Would Like to Be Treated – It’s a golden rule for a reason. It works. I remind myself, no matter how stressful or impatient I get, “What if it was you on the other side of this conversation?” That helps.
  5. “Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”- Plato – Wise words. It plays through my mind daily. When someone is complaining to me about paying off their .75 cent overdue fine and being, what I may consider, difficult, I tend to think “What if he/she just found out they owe $500 in taxes?” or “What if they’re house just burned down?” I mean, I know that’s kind of drastic, but it helps me to keep calm. It reminds me that I’m probably not be the cause of their frustration, just the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’ve all had one of those days–you know the ones where everything goes wrong no matter how hard you try to make it go right? Well, yeah, this saying keeps that perspective.

I realize that sometimes people are difficult just because they’re difficult, but then another saying helps me too, “You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control how you react,” and I choose to be my best self, no matter what the outcome because if I made a noble effort to be my best self, I’ll never be disappointed.

(Shoot! Missed it by eight minutes. Ah well, I started writing it yesterday. I’ll take it 😉 )


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In a 140 characters or less: I'm an easy going, movie geek, TV buff, book-loving, melancholy/phlegmatic, Scorpio kinda gal.