Remain calm. Never argue or negotiate. Speak quietly. Be pleasant, no matter what the user says.
Listen. Let the user blow off steam.
Don’t take complaints personally. Complaints are directed at the system. Taking them personally leads to burnout.
Don’t give your own opinion or tell a story about something similar that has happened to you. Self-disclosure is a skill that is often inappropriate for handling complaints: either the user will become impatient or will feel encouraged to describe more complaints.
Know when a complaint is beyond your control: refer quickly and accurately.
When you receive repeated complaints about something outside of your control and for which there seems to be no appropriate procedure or referral it’s time to discuss the problem at a staff meeting.
(Ross, C. S. and P. Dewdney. Communicating Professionally. 1989. p. 128.)
Tips for potentially dangerous situations
Be alert. Initial signals for a problem situation include: users moving away from another user; users starting at someone; and users looking at staff as a form of complaint.
Stay calm. You may be able to defuse the situation or at least prevent if from escalating.
Do not speak loudly, use patronizing phrases, or make sudden gestures.
Know the appropriate agency to call. If possible, use a signal system so that an assistant can call the police quickly and quietly.
Ask other users and staff to move away from the disturbed person for their safety.
Do not attempt to prevent the person from leaving the library.
File an incident report.
(Ross, C. S. and P. Dewdney. Communicating Professionally. 1989. p. 133.)
Use common sense.
Remain calm and impersonal.
Set limits and stick to them.
Don’t argue with outrageous statements.
Offer choice of actions.
Don’t try to restrain.
Difficult situations: suggested readings
Salter, C.A., and J.L. Salter. On the Frontlines: Coping with the Library’s Problem Patrons. 1988. (Z679.6 .S28)
Smith, Kitty. Serving the Difficult Customer. 1993. (Z711 .S66)
Turner, A.M. It Comes with the Territory: Handling Problem Situations in Libraries. 1993. (Z711 .T87)