Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The (Not So) Fine Line Between Relationship Building and Gossiping

"Gossiping" (source)

When a customer interaction turns into an extended conversation or worse, gossiping... Well, in the words of one of my favorite philosophers, it "gives me an uncomfortableness." 

This isn't necessarily an issue that's confined to libraries - goodness knows I've been stuck behind THAT guy, the one who wants to chat up the baristo after finishing his order, enough times - but this blog is about libraries, after all. It's odd when it happens in a library, since there are usually good intentions. For instance, I get that people don't want to seem rude when a patron (or a friend who "just dropped by") starts chatting with them. After all, we want the people in the communities we serve to like and feel comfortable around us. We want them to turn to us with questions and/or problems rather than being shy of us. 

But still, it can be a problem. For one thing, if you're chatting with one customer, another customer might think you're busy and decide not to ask for help because they don't want to interrupt. A colleague of mine at another library described the ramifications of this kind of thing well by saying, "fostering and nurturing relationships need to be balanced with daily tasks and running of the the library. So if customer service for others is being effected by your community building with some, then it is detrimental overall." [Emphasis his.]

I'm not saying that you can only talk business with the people who come up to you at the circulation desk and/or the reference desk (or anywhere else in the library). It's good to work on customer relationships, and a little bit of chatting can help. But you have to find a happy medium. You should definitely work with someone up until the moment the conversation isn't about library business anymore, and feel free to give it a little more time, but not much more. Moments of laughter can help build relationships, but make sure it's not at the expense of your other duties.

One last bit of advice: even if you do chat &/or gossip, there is one thing that you should never, never, NEVER discuss. Never talk about patrons (or other library staff) where members of your community can hear you. Not only is it bad form, there is also the fact that you know they are going to walk away thinking "What will s/he say about me when I'm not around?" So, no matter how juicy the gossip, it can wait. Those parrots (species anyone?) at the top of this post might look cute gossiping, but you won't.

Many thanks to John Pappas for helping me flesh out my ideas on this topic.

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