Sunday, July 10, 2011

Game Face

One of the great challenges of life is maturing enough to be able to recognize that sometimes life requires us to remain calm and fully utilize our poker faces. Probably the greatest skill I've gained as a working adult is the ability to detach my emotions from the tasks I must complete as an employee and supervisor. Though I am passionate about many things in my personal life, I've had to realize that being ruled by passion at work almost never ends well.

Think about people you work with: consider the person who cries a lot or is angry a lot or is so mercurial they are difficult to interact with. Now consider the person who is able to talk reasonably about problems or calmly troubleshoot an emergency. I strive to be someone who is excited about making things better but able to temper that excitement with rationality and flexibility.

But I still want to tell the patron who told me to "go back to Hong Kong" to go fuck herself.

Not only am I a branch manager, but today I am the "librarian in charge." The LIC is the highest ranking staff member on duty on Sundays when most of our working staff is part-time. My staff can and should notify me about problems as they arise, especially when I am on-duty with them.

Today we had a female loudly complaining about asthma being contagious and asking that the man on the computer across from her be removed from the library because he was using an inhaler. Her computer session expired and she refused to relinquish her machine to the next customer. I overheard her call one of my librarians a bitch and walked over with the security officer as she continued to argue with another librarian. I introduced myself and asked if there was a problem; she asked me if I was "in her country" and continued to argue. As I more firmly tried to stop her tirade she finally told me to "go back to Hong Kong," at which point I advised her that the library would not tolerate disparaging racial comments or name-calling and that it was time for her to leave. She was escorted out by our security officer, promising that we would all be in trouble for her treatment. "What is your name again?" she asked. I repeated my name and position as branch manager, to which she replied "not for long."

All this to say, while on the inside I wanted to physically and verbally unleash the fury on this woman, common sense and my position held me back. This may be the hardest part of working with the public: the situations where people are entirely rude, ignorant, hateful and, oftentimes, smelly. I hate to admit that people are sometimes willfully ignorant, incredibly spiteful or mentally unstable - sometimes all three - and that no amount of calm lecturing or kind accommodation will change them. 

I can see that it's taken me this long to become a person who can handle these situations in a way that won't get my contract terminated. My younger self would've engaged in an argument or reacted in kind when put in this situation. I'm not sure there are any books or workshops to aid in this; my education has certainly been trial and error to create the "game face" I'm able to put on now.

But just for the record, I'm Korean NOT CHINESE!


  1. Oh my god. She sounds like a total delight, but it sounds like you handled the situation like the cool, calm, collected professional that you are. You get a million billion gold stars for that one.

  2. And a jewel in your crown. Well done. At least she didn't have hot coffee to throw at you.

  3. Kudos, girl. I am sure the security guard, the other patrons, and your staff appreciated your mature and responsible reaction to the situation.