I recently presented a workshop on "Conflict Resolution" at the NJ Library Association conference and I have been thinking more about the idea of "state vs. trait" and the importance of being aware of how we interpret the behavior of others in library service encounters. Our judgments often depend on how well we know the other person.
If someone we know (and like or love) is rude or cold to us on any given day, we are likely to think "He's just having a bad day," or "Something must be wrong with her today." In other words, we think that our friend is temporarily upset, in a bad mood, or in a bad state. We are able to give that person the benefit of the doubt and may even excuse their somewhat nasty behavior because we know that this is not their usual personality. Our first reaction is to become concerned and to ask "what's wrong?" or "what's going on with you today?"
If, however, we don't know someone at all (as is the case for most library service encounters) and this person is rude or cold to us, we are much more likely to think "What an awful person" or "What's their problem?" or even "What an expletive deleted!" We think that the person has a bad trait. We are unable to excuse their bad behavior since we assume that they are always like that. Our first reaction is to be offended. We may not be able to resist the urge to snap back with a tart retort and then conflict ensues.
For service excellence in libraries, if we are able to think of the grumpy, stressed, or otherwise annoying people we encounter as nice people possibly having a bad day or being temporarily stressed out, this would enable us to be more sympathetic. We could then perhaps respond by asking "What's wrong?" or "Can I help you, you seem upset today?" We could openly acknowledge that they seem stressed or upset, that we understand that they are a bit fragile today, and they may be in need of a little bit of TLC. If we can see argumentative or grouchy people as being in a bad state rather than having a nasty trait, and if we react to them in a more caring way, many potential conflicts can be averted or defused.
On the days when I am stressed or rushed or hungry and tired while running a bunch of errands, I would just love it if those I encounter at service desks could understand that I am usually quite lovable and kind. Yes, I am a bit grumpy and fragile today, but I am having a really bad day.