Oh, just get over it!
May 19, 2014 5:15 PM   Subscribe

I am a public librarian. Sometimes I have to deal with problem patrons, and on rare occasions, those interactions turn ugly, and I have to ask the person to leave the building, etc. The problem is, I get upset, and then I get all flushed and shaky and worst of all, I cry. And when that happens, I can't really go off by myself and get composed -- I'm usually at the reference desk alone, so I can't be away for more than a minute or two. I've read previous AskMe questions about avoiding the crying, and have tried a lot of those tricks -- what I'd really like is to avoid getting so emotionally upset in the first place.

For example: tonight I had a deeply unpleasant run-in with a couple of teenage boys who are almost always on their worst behavior in the library, and I ended up having to tell them to leave. They refused, cussed and yelled and acted like bullies at me, I ended up having to escort them to the door and get a coworker to help me deal with them, all while trying to help other patrons. It sucked mightily, and I ended up in tears after they left.

After doing the necessary emailing of my boss and such, I took some deep breaths and tried to settle back down and get work done, but... as soon as I walked back out to the front desk and a particularly nosy coworker asked "Oh, are you upset about those boys??" I started to cry. I excused myself to the staff room, got a drink of water, and got some composure back, but it was embarrassing, and I'm still feeling shaky and teary-eyed. And, since I'm alone at Reference, I can't deal with it privately -- since every single patron in the room was a captive audience to the obnoxious teens, I've had lots of people making sympathetic comments and such, and that just makes it worse.

I would love to be one of those people who just shrugs it off once the conflict is over, but I have no idea how. Deep breaths and all to try to calm down afterward is one thing -- how do I avoid getting so stressed/upset/ wound up emotionally to begin with? Does anyone else deal with this? How do you handle it? I know part of it is anxiety -- I am on medication for an anxiety disorder, so I'm sure that's a part of it.
posted by sarcasticah to Work & Money (41 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of it is just practice, really. You get a little bit hardened to those kinds of interactions if you have them more often. Have you considered asking someone to role play with you?
posted by empath at 5:19 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, have you ever taken a customer service class? They'll teach you some techniques for dealing with problem customers. Really the key is to not take it personally. They don't know you and don't care about you. You represent the organization that you work for (or in the case of the kids, probably a more nebulous 'authority'). Learn to use institutional language ("I'm sorry, but that won't be possible. It's against policy.") to detach yourself from the situation.
posted by empath at 5:24 PM on May 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Oh hi I'm you! And I'm sorry that happened at work, it sounds like a horrible time and I'm sorry about your nosy coworker too.

I agree with what empath said above. For your patron problems would you be able to put the recurring problems into distinct groups (loud patrons; teenagers; time-wasters; etc.) and then practice carbon-copy actions to do as their actions escalate? You could also try playing a role, like "Sarcasticah's sister, RARcasticah" when you interact with assholes. We introverts tend to present our sensitive selves to everyone we ask for but for some people you really need to be fake. They won't care or notice the difference and that way you can save your real self for deserving people.

And the other advice I would have is, forgive yourself. Getting teary over cruel teenagers is ok. It is not the end of the world. You don't have to react to every situation like Wonder Woman. Take care of yourself and build up your stores of happiness so that they don't run out the minute you interact with a problem patron.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:27 PM on May 19, 2014 [19 favorites]

P.S. I think the name of your question is very telling. Telling yourself, "Oh, just get over it" is the BEST way to make sure your emotions get stronger and you feel more upset. Practice acknowledging your emotions and giving them permission to exist. There are lots of ways to do that... therapy... meditation... just plain self-care. Good luck.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:30 PM on May 19, 2014 [14 favorites]

I agree that you'll become more inured to it over time, but frame of mind helps a lot, too. I spent years working at a used book store that was often not much better than a pawnshop, and dealt almost every day with junkies, homeless thieves, people having to sell their books to make rent, etc. - lots of unpleasant, occasionally dangerous, interactions.

I had a hard time dealing with it until I realized that none of the yelling, threats, and other BS had *anything to do with me*. These people were all deeply messed up, in pain, desperate, etc., and just lashing out at anyone they could. Mainly because they were in a place in their lives where they had almost no self-control left. Also, that my reacting fed their egos and actually made matters worse.

Over time, I was able to rationalize the acrimony, and just detach. Being calm, disinterested, and refusing to play along not only made me feel better, it actually reduced the overall level of tension. Once people realize you aren't going to give them the reaction they want, all but the most over-the-edge will generally back off.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:33 PM on May 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a teacher, I'll second empath - emotionally dealing with confrontations gets easier with practice. Not quickly, but it does get easier. I used to feel just like you describe after a confrontation, but it has gotten a lot easier after a few years.

One technique that has helped me is mentally focusing before, during, and after a confrontation on reorienting the conflict. Right now, it probably seems like it's YOU vs. OBNOXIOUS TEENAGE BOYS. And that can be very upsetting. Try to shift your mental picture of the situation to


It's not you getting into it with numbnuts & co, it's them and the rules not getting along, and you're just mechanically, according to protocol, enforcing THE RULES. It really has nothing to do with you at all, you just happen to be the person around who is administering the pre-determined consequences for breaking THE RULES. Takes practice, but it can help you remain calmer during and after the interaction.

Another way to try to keep your own emotions and ego uninvolved and unruffled, is to focus on the reason for enforcing the rules - ultimately it's so everyone else in the library NOT acting like a jagoff can access important community resources. These people are STOPPING OTHER PATRONS from enjoying the critical resources that they are due as citizens. Again, you're not really even involved - it's


You're just the lucky library staffer who gets to represent all the other patrons who are also annoyed at the teenagers, but don't have the authority to deal with it.

Good luck.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:36 PM on May 19, 2014 [53 favorites]

Best answer: Practice helps for sure. Role play also helps, or even just rehearsing possible interactions in your head, until you're happy with your reaction. (Note the difference between this and dwelling on it -- in rehearsing it, you're replaying it, changing your reactions, saying, Aha! THAAAAAAT'S what I should have said!, and then saying, Good, now I know what to say next time! If you're dwelling on it, you're going, Stupid! I should have said that! Dammit!)

I get shaky about things like this too, and one thing that I find helped a lot in the early going when I had less experience was to imagine myself in a professional persona who was different from my private persona. Some people do this by imagining themselves emulating someone powerful and impressive and calm (like, say, Diane Lockhart on The Good Wife) and "being" that person during the stressful interaction; for me, I felt like I was literally pulling a close-fitting suit of plastic or steel over myself, one that looked just like me, so that I was inside it, but the "Eyebrows" that the angry jerks were being jerks to was my steel encasing and so it couldn't hurt ME. They could be noisy or scary but I was safely inside my me-case and they were yelling at a suit of armor or a robot or whatever. Visualizing the idea that my professional persona was actually a physical thing helped me maintain my calm and emotional distance; I could have my thoughts and my feelings INSIDE my suit-of-me, I was still free to be myself and feel my self fully, but those reactions didn't show on the surface because the surface was my me-suit of which I was fully in control. It sounds very silly when I try to explain it, but it worked. I even sometimes do that thing that actors do where they break in a scene and then they draw their hand down over their face while taking a breath to get back into character? Like it's sort-of a silly "this is how I show I'm acting while on TV!" trope and if you make that gesture people understand it as you being a little lighthearted while preparing to do battle or regaining your composure. But when *I* do it, I'm pulling on my me-helmet so I'm fully encased. :)

Anyway, while wearing my me-suit, I feel much more like I'm observing people being nasty to someone else, so I don't get as upset and personally affected by it. Afterwards it feels more like I witnessed an ugly exchange than that I was involved in one directly.

I also find it helps to say to co-workers or whomever afterwards, who ask if I'm okay, "Ugh, I was okay while it was going on but now that it's over I'm all shook up!" People TOTALLY understand that and usually say, "Oh, man, I'm like that whenever someone's bleeding ..." or whatever, and (as you probably know) feeling anxious about public tears ONLY MAKES THE TEARS HAPPEN MORE, so I've found acknowledging that I'm after-the-fact-shook-up helps me power past that part a little bit so I can regain my composure more quickly.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:37 PM on May 19, 2014 [22 favorites]

I agree that you'll become more inured to it over time, but frame of mind helps a lot, too.

I've never been in quite the same situation, sarcasticah, but having worked in both a locked Alzheimer's unit and with the developmentally disabled I have learned this: if one identifies the basic pattern of the person's behavior (which could include, as it says above, good excuses like being a junky or in pain or whatever) it makes it much easier to retain one's patience.

The second part of retaining one's patience can be taken from a Truman Capote quotation: "I don't care what anybody says about me as long as it isn't true." To wit: an angry stranger wants to flap their gums at you? It isn't you that they're going to make look bad.
posted by mr. digits at 5:42 PM on May 19, 2014

Best answer: I just want to add, that unruly people, ESPECIALLY teenagers, LOVE to make it "YOU vs. ME", because that's dramatic, exciting, and deeply satisfying to their built in persecution complex. The most annoying teenagers will have developed many carefully honed techniques for turning any situation into a nasty YOU vs. ME confrontation. That makes it extra important, when dealing with such young ones, to keep the focus on THE RULES (which are there to protect the rights of all patrons) vs. YOU. That's much less exciting for them, which is why it's a much more effective way to approach the conflict.

Additionally, I should mention, if the rules aren't already clearly laid out, and there aren't pre-determined consequences for violating the rules, consider making some at the next staff meeting and posting them. Not because the teenagers will read them and obey, but because it will make you feel better about administering pre-determined consequences to pre-determined rules, rather than improvising punishments based on judgement calls about behavior, which plays into the YOU vs. ME dynamic.

To hijack a quote from Serenity,
You are fooling yourself, buddy. Nothing here is what it seems. You are not the plucky hero, the Library is not an evil empire, and this is not the grand arena. It's just that you violated rule 6 over there when you stuck your gum on that table, and accordingly you need to leave the library.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:46 PM on May 19, 2014 [21 favorites]

ESPECIALLY teenagers, LOVE to make it "YOU vs. ME"

I like to interpret it as them believing they're competing for some kind of alpha status.
posted by mr. digits at 5:50 PM on May 19, 2014

I have done so much crying at the reference desk and what helped was therapy and practice and the slow, slow learning that it's not within my power or my responsibility to be some magical combination of appeasing enough and badass enough to fix all of these situations.

At the same time, I spent a lot of time berating myself for being too emotional and it was the most counterproductive thing in the long run, because it didn't make me less emotional, it made it harder to let go of how I was feeling. And being able to tell myself, hey, I'm allowed to be angry because that guy was a jerk, I'm allowed to be upset because I got yelled at, actually defanged a lot of the worst of it.

I don't know how long you have been a librarian, but if you haven't been on the job long (or even if you haven't been in this particular branch for long) it's worth talking some of these situations through with your manager, because sometimes there are actual changes that need to happen in terms of policies or security staffing, and sometimes it just helps to calibrate your expectations. I think I have learned a lot from my branch manager who is basically unflappable and when a patron is all het up and I am all het up he can model what it looks like to be responsive to what needs to happen without getting het up about it.
posted by Jeanne at 5:51 PM on May 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm a public library librarian. I don't get upset (basically due to my temperament) but I completely understand my colleagues that do have to take a break (or proactively leave the public areas when they see their "triggering" members of the public).

It doesn't matter that you are the only person in the reference desk. You can still leave it to compose yourself in private for twenty minutes. Sitting there crying/upset for the next hour in the public area is providing much worse public service than a pre-printed sign or colleague that lets the members of the public know you'll be happy to help them in twenty minutes. Nothing is so urgent on the desk that it can't wait.

I agree with looking at your current staffing/policies. When I had a "problem" group of teens I let them know each time they came in the door what my expectations for their behaviour was, and, if they violated it, I kicked them out immediately with no second chances that day. I gave a verbal and written explanation of consequences if their behaviour continued the next time they came in. I did end up giving out banning notices/let their parents and school know, and, surprise, I have had no trouble with them for over a year of daily visits after they were allowed to return.

At another branch, that had several violent interactions with the public, I know the staff used a book called the Black Belt Librarian (and a group sessions based on the professional literature).
posted by saucysault at 6:22 PM on May 19, 2014 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a public library librarian. I don't get upset (basically due to my temperament) but I completely understand my colleagues that do have to take a break

This is me also. And I think part of what may be happening is that even though you're okay at being THE RULES vs LOUSY PATRONS you then may feel trapped between THE RULES and YOUR OWN EMOTIONS. That is to say you are feeling like you have to be at the reference desk but any job where you have time to use the bathroom you also have time to take five or ten minutes of personal time and chill out and get into a better headspace. Also sometimes I think it helps to get some sort of confirmation that "hey that really was bad" either by sort of visibly shaking it off (and giving other patrons a big smile or however you might communicate with them) or talk to someone else about it for five minutes just to feel that you are human, you had a bad interaction, you are okay. Just like when you wake up from a bad dream it can be helpful to tell someone "I had a bad dream" it can be helpful to sort of offload post-interaction emotions. Give yourself a small amount of space to do that and try not to hem yourself in too much by the rules you are trying to enforce.
posted by jessamyn at 6:31 PM on May 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a teacher, and I used to have these kinds of reactions to student conflicts as well. It does get easier with time, and it does help to think of it as a conflict between the misbehaving person and the rules, rather than you and the misbehaving person.

I find that it also really helps to know how you'll respond to any situation. When I have to think on my feet in a stressful situation, I tend to react emotionally rather than act tactically. (For example: "Ok, I'll tell this student to stop doing that...uh oh, they refused, now what do I do???" Suddenly I'm stressed and reacting to the kid's refusal, while trying to figure out what to do. This is a situation in which my adrenaline would start pumping and I'd get emotional after the fact.)

Now that I know how I will respond to whatever form the conflict takes, I can focus on being mindful of how I'm acting and making sure that I appear as calm and objective as possible. (So if the kid refuses to stop, I already know that I will say "your options are to stop doing that, or step outside to chat with me" - knowing this allows me to focus on my delivery rather than whatever the kid is saying). This certainty about my next step will also sometimes allow me to closely observe my own reactions and control them more fully (huh, that thing he said pissed me off - he's getting under my skin, which is the reaction he wants...I'll make sure to speak slowly and calmly).

So - I think it may really help to write out common conflicts you run into and the various directions they can go. Ask someone you work with who's good at this to help you plan exactly what you'd say to different responses. When you have a plan in mind, I think it really helps you feel in control and act in a way that conveys that.
posted by leitmotif at 6:33 PM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

As long as you're being medicated for anxiety, you might ask whoever's writing the prescriptions whether it might be worth looking into a mood stabilizer such as lamotrigine. (I mention this only because I empathize with your experiences and have for the past year been taking lamotrigine, which has worked well for me.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 6:42 PM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think a lot of people have given you good advice here. The only thing I would add is to try to make lower back and hip breathing a part of your daily life.

What is lower back and hip breathing? It's deep breathing...but I don't like using that term because usually when you tell a shallow breather to breath deeply all they do is take a big chest breath that doesn't go any lower than their rib cage. That is not helpful. People like you who get emotional very easily and get stressed out easily are almost always people who breath in the upper half of their torso. Every day pay attention to breathing naturally but low where you feel the subtle movement in your lower back and perhaps even in your hips. When you get very upset you will find it almost impossible to breath in this area... try anyway. It will make a huge difference in the way you react to things.
posted by manderin at 6:50 PM on May 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Escorting belligerent patrons from the building? That's very stressful; it's on a level beyond the verbal and I think you rule for being able to do it at all, much less not get stressed out about it. I wish you would not pathologize that to yourself. After something like that, if a coworker said, "Are you upset?" I'd be tempted to say, "Where were you when I needed backup?" In fact I think there should be more support when things get that confrontational and, yes, at a certain point people should be banned.
posted by BibiRose at 6:50 PM on May 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

As a library patron, I occasionally approach the reference desk and find it empty. In these cases I go ask someone at another desk, or come back in 5 minutes, or just blow off my question for the day, none of which is a bid deal.

Unless librarians actually get disciplined for occasionally leaving their posts, I think you should just take a break.

In my opinion, having emotions is a good trait that you should keep instead of trying to repress.
posted by latkes at 7:12 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This situation sounds awful. I totally get this, I am someone whose default reaction to any stong emotion (anger, frustration, relief, etc) is cying. I hate that I cry in professional situations when i don't feel like it's appropiate, which in itself totally makes it way harder to stay calm. I also feel like as soon as I have that emotional let down and do cry, it can be much harder to compose myself and stop. I've also had some "rule enforcer" jobs. Here are some tips/physical tricks that have stuck with me:

Duing the confontation:
- De-escalate by staying calmer than the person you are talking to. They start talking louder and faster? Pause, then answer slower, softer, and calmer (in gradual steps down).
- body language - I'm a shorter person, so especially in a confrontation with a larger or intimidating person, I try to remember to feel like I'm taking up space - both feet planted on the floor, stand up straight, shoulders back, arms relaxed. This helps me feel more calm and in control.
- Breathe. In AND out. When I'm anxious I sometimes forget to breath out as deeply as I do in, which causes hyperventilating and increased anxiety. It's ok to pause, breath, and think. Own the pause.

- physically shake off the emotion - shake my arms/legs out, loosen up my muscles, stretch
- deep exhale, and breaths in and out - I like square breathing (google for lots of instructions)
- go to the bathroom and wash my hands for a long while, visualizing rinsing off the negativity
- give myself some mental affirmation/props for how I handled it, and try to check any self-judgment: "That was really hard, but I did just what I needed to, everything is fine now, everyone is safe and ok, nothing bad happened."
- Do something really distracting for a few minutes. Watch a cute puppy or kitten video if at all possible.
posted by Atalanta at 7:19 PM on May 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Another conflict-averse former high school teacher here. One thing that really helped me in fostering the intestinal fortitude to play the Man vs. teenage assholes was thinking about it not being about me vs. teenage assholes, or even about The Rules vs. teenage assholes (although that's also helpful) but about Everybody Else vs. teenage assholes. It became a whole lot easier to deal with the combative bullshit when I started thinking about it as me taking one for the team. However much I hated it, I just had to think about the other conflict-averse kids whose learning experience was being ruined, and who were structurally less able to do anything about it.

It's totally fine to be rattled by it, as others have said. And it will get easier. Just remember: you just faced down, and fixed, a bad situation. You'll do it again, too -- next time, focus on all the people you helped by removing the problem, not on the one or two bad eggs.
posted by dr. boludo at 8:42 PM on May 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've found that the best way to quickly clear negative emotions after a confrontation is vigorous exercise. It's a neurochemical thing.

Obviously your options at work are very limited, but when you go back to the staff room is there any way you could do a few minutes of jumping jacks?
posted by Jacqueline at 9:00 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know part of it is anxiety -- I am on medication for an anxiety disorder, so I'm sure that's a part of it.

Talk to your doctor about a prescription for Inderal for occasional usage, which you can take as soon as you know it's going to be a problem and it will help the shaky feeling to pass more quickly. Beta blockers are a brilliant thing with an anxiety disorder.
posted by Sequence at 9:08 PM on May 19, 2014

I might be totally out of line here but is calling (or threatening to call) the police a possiblity? I've never worked in a library, but is it normal that the reference desk person do double duty as a bouncer? I mean these people are tresspassing right? They were swearing at you? You've asked them to leave and they refused? They are breaking numerous laws.
Sounds like part of the problem here is that you are scared...and rightly so, these situations are filled with unkown and possibly dangerous outcomes. Seems to me that it might be empowering and all together safer to have the law on your side.
posted by Mr.Me at 10:24 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked in a library with a large number of mentally ill patrons. We had the organization that sees most of these folks as clients come in and do some role play training with staff. Perhaps you can arrange for such a thing in your library. Nothing like a script to get you through a rough situation with minimal emotional anguish!

Also, you should be able to call for back up when a situation gets heated like that. Your library should have a set procedure that you can call a backup person up to the desk to help patrons while you deal with the situation. You should also be able to call that person on desk for a few minutes while you go in the back and zen out for a few minutes. It's not that you can't handle it emotionally, you just react to a lot of anxiety and adrenaline with tears. Embrace it.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:39 PM on May 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

In terms of coping with the aftermath, rather than the situation, I would try overwriting my emotions. Where I would get upset, force myself to be angry instead at them for making me feel like this. It doesn't work all the time but essentially trying to flood yourself with an emotion that isn't so publicly visible until you get the privacy to deal with the fact it upset you!
posted by Wysawyg at 3:47 AM on May 20, 2014

I am you. Same job, same situations, frequently. There's a plethora of excellent information above, so I'll add just a few things:

Pick up an object, any object, when you are leaving your desk to deal with a confrontation. I usually take a book, or clipboard. It keeps your hands occupied, and gives an impression of calm. Empty hands=tension, or wringing or other nervous gestures.

Learn to pitch you voice low, and to speak with intent. DO NOT ENGAGE in a verbal battle, especially with teens. Use some stock phrases: "You are behaving inappropriately, and you must leave the building." "please watch your language".

If your library has written policy for disruptive behavior, unattended children, loitering..have copies available to give the offender(s). Repeatedly, if necessary.

It's time for a talk with your director. You should have backup when dealing with these sort of issues. Someone should be watching your back (and the reference desk) when you need to deal with situations. Ask if your local police department can have an officer do a walk through your building (in my library, after school is our difficult time, YMMV.)

Don't stress about other patrons witnessing the confrontations. You are doing your job, and they understand that.

Even if you are absolutely quivering with fear, stress, or whatever, FAKE a feeing of calm disdain! That's the most useful demeanor in dealing with teens. Practice when you are alone.

And finally, breathe. Consciously slow your breathing, during the interaction, and take time after to breathe deeply and center yourself. Grab a cup of tea, go to the bathroom, whatever, to give yourself a few minutes to decompress after it's over.

Know the kids names. It is very effective to address them by name.

I feel your pain.
posted by LaBellaStella at 4:03 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

During these Reference shifts, who is the Librarian In Charge (the most senior member of library staff)? If it's not you, then they should be the ones doing the evicting. If your library doesn't have a set LiC chain of command, you'll want to bring that up to your director when you discuss unruly patrons and No Trespass orders. This is not a "kids being kids" situation - this is "patrons are denying others equal use of library resources" and should be treated as such.

Beyond THE RULES there is THE PROCESS. When a patron violates THE RULES they now become part of THE PROCESS. You are just a cog in THE PROCESS and have no emotional or personal attachment to it. You just move THE PROCESS along. How far THE PROCESS goes is up to the teens - it can end with them calming down and behaving or go as far as calling the cops.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:52 AM on May 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Back in my public library days, I had several experiences that left me shaken - including the time I was assaulted by a patron who started a Wild West barroom-style fight in the reading room. I still get rattled by confrontational interactions, but I have learned that sometimes my inability to form a coherent sentence in the heat of the moment looks like stoicism. If the crazy person gets a chance to speak freely while I say nothing except "I see," I have a moment to draw a few deep breaths and gather myself. I practice detachment from what is happening, then at an appropriate moment I firmly say "thank you for your input." Nine times out of ten, people creating an unpleasant situation in the library are just looking for someone to bitch to; you don't have to take on any of that unpleasantness yourself. You represent the thing (the policy, the organization, the government, or whatever it is that is bothering your patron) that they don't like, but *you are not the thing.*

In the meantime, also, do find out what the policy is about getting some backup. No one should have to handle "situations" alone.
posted by Otter_Handler at 6:05 AM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm sorry you're put in such a stressful situation; some very good advice has been given. ONe thing I'd like to add is this: When you say 'particularly nosy coworker asked "Oh, are you upset about those boys??" ' - maybe rather than being nosy, they're trying to support you, in their own clumsy way. Maybe they're thinking it'll help to talk it out.
posted by at at 6:21 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Customer service classes?
Beating yourself up??

Don't do this to yourself - crying is a human reflex and response that helps you deal and cope. Don't fight nature by trying to "turn it off." Hardening yourself affects other parts of your personality, negatively.

Far more simple to ask a male colleague to deal with the teenage boys and other confrontations.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:10 AM on May 20, 2014

There's some great advice here.

One thing to think about: these episodes of conflict upset me because of adrenaline mostly. Conflict can get me shaky and emotional, and then I don't feel competent to manage the situation. It's a little counterintuitive, but self-defense classes are organized to help people deal clearly with moments of conflict. I'm not suggesting you take self-defense so that you can beat up patrons in the library! Heh! But it will expose you to more conflict, and scary, freighted situations, and perhaps help you feel confident and able to manage situations of stress. That's been my experience: I felt more secure, less intimidated, and I knew that it was okay, basically, that loud things are happening.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:27 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is not a place for discussion. Absolutely fine to offer alternative suggestions in your own answer but it really needs to be a "question --> answers" game and not spin off into debates over specific answers or users. Thanks!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 7:54 AM on May 20, 2014

I am an incredibly sensitive-super flower (though you probably would not know it by interacting with me), and conflict of any sort really messes with my head (and body), and can last days.

What has worked incredibly well for me with interactions that are turning ugly with students is to actually see it from their point of view. Well, kind a sort of, a lot of times I can't quite see their point of view, but I see their issue/acting out as legitimate to them and that they are trying to rebalance their upsetting emotions vis-a-vis me. So I can internally acknowledge that hey, you are really pissed off about a grade and want to get into it, okay! I can see you are upset! I typically don't verbalize or acknowledge them being upset/angry etc, I just internally acknowledge it, that they have a right to their head space.

What this does is it allows me to move the 'situation' into a neutral territory, it is hanging out between us, rather than landing directly on me. I get distance from it, and can take direct action without getting personally involved in their scenario. It also means that I can take on the role of a sympathetic third-party, yes, these are the rules/criteria whatever, and we have to follow them, but my ego is not involved in this showdown. I never verbalize any of that, but my manner is less adversarial or defensive, it is just dealing with the situation in a straightforward and clear manner.

It doesn't always work, my buttons still get pushed on occasion, but now they are awfully rare. Maybe that can help with your situation, which is clearly not exactly the same.
posted by nanook at 8:06 AM on May 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

out here in the boonies, our local librarians have pepper spray, and it is well-known to all that if you cut up sufficiently rough, they will spray you. they will spray you with dignity and aplomb, never losing their composure. if your library had this, it might be almost as peaceful and even-tempered a space as mine.
posted by bruce at 8:55 AM on May 20, 2014

I recently read something (hell, it might have even been on MeFi) that no one hates you; they just hate themselves at you. This helps me when I have to deal with unpleasantness in life. I spent seven years primarily working in employee relations and learned early on that not getting sucked into a debate is 95% of those interactions. Have a short statement and repeat it verbatim ("your behavior is inappropriate and you must leave the library now"). Don't change your message as it can give the opposing team a new angle to exploit. It's not time for a debate - you're delivering a message until it is recieved.

I also agree with Foam Pants; strength in numbers is a good thing. It might not always be feasible, but there should be policies in place for dealing with patrons with the assistance of your co-workers.
posted by Twicketface at 9:08 AM on May 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

This isn't answering the question, but were I in your shoes, I'd make it known to my coworkers that having to throw people out of the library really bothered me, and I'd really appreciate when that happens if someone could take over for me for 10 minutes while I pull it together.

Unless this happens five times per day, taking over for 10 minutes would like a reasonable request.

There's nothing to be embarrassed about here, and you're right in trying to develop a thicker skin. But it seems like a little teamwork would go a long way.
posted by cnc at 2:11 PM on May 20, 2014

Best answer: > Have a short statement and repeat it verbatim ("your behavior is inappropriate and you must leave the library now"). Don't change your message as it can give the opposing team a new angle to exploit.

This!!! When I started out as a public librarian the main mistake I made when I dealt with "problem patrons" was trying to reason/bargain/debate with them. If they're Violating the Rules of Conduct, especially if they're a repeat offenders, they Suffer The Consequences and Out They Go. End of story. And, as many others have pointed out, do your best to detach yourself emotionally from the situation. Those assholes are not worth your peace of mind.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:11 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. A little clarification and an update:

I'm usually only at Reference by myself because I usually work evenings. The library director and the other staff are great, and will totally have my back, or anyone else's, should a problem arise. We're a good team here. The only issue is that, what with it being evening, the director and associate director have usually gone home for the day, unless there's an event going on that they are part of.

When I came in today, my more-senior coworker and I had a good talk, and he agreed that I wasn't overreacting, that my actions were completely valid, and that I shouldn't feel bad for telling the little jerks to leave. And that they are, as of now, banned. Their cards are blocked from using the computers, and since that's all they do (God, how I hate Minecraft. That's all they do, play Minecraft and tear up the bathrooms and act like little monsters!) they probably won't come in at all. At the very least, they're going to have to meet with the director before anyone will even consider letting them come back.

Also, while I was at lunch, the older of the two came in, and upon discovering that his card was blocked, had a complete fit at my coworker, the associate director, and the circulation supervisor, claiming that I'm just a lying meanie who hates them for no reason. Happily, my colleagues all believe me! So now they DEFINITELY know they can't come back, and I was able to have another good discussion with everyone about the situation. I still want to learn how to better handle this stuff so I don't get so fight-or-flight upset, and I'm writing down all your suggestions so I can keep them and look over them from time to time, and practice in my head.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:05 PM on May 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

You probably won't be able to change yourself much without some serious meditation or prescriptions, but you can call for backup, can't you? Shift the situation more into your favor by having someone there on your side?

If you aren't entirely alone in the building, call another person to come over for a couple of minutes to help you calmly deliver your message and escort the bothersome people out. (And if you are entirely alone in the building, that's not safe.)
posted by pracowity at 4:07 AM on May 21, 2014

Response by poster: Never ever entirely alone in the building, no. I mean, the setup of the library isn't great -- the Circulation desk and Reference desk are in separate rooms, and the circulation staff can't see the reference staff (and vice versa). There's also an exit door behind the desk, so basically people enter the building directly behind my left shoulder, and that's not great. It is something that the director is hoping to change soon -- she wants to move the Reference desk so that there's a clear sight-line between it and the Circulation desk, mostly for safety, but also because it would just make life so much easier.

We have a very strict policy of not leaving anyone alone in the building, and even all make sure to leave together at closing time -- no library staff left behind! So that's not a concern.
posted by sarcasticah at 6:13 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how big/well-staffed your library is, but escorting unruly people to the door...? That sounds like a job for the security guard(s), not something you should have to put yourself in danger doing.
posted by blueberry at 8:50 PM on June 23, 2014

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