I have found that working with the public is the most interesting, unexpected and unpredictable thing as my job as a reference librarian. At times it’s even been unpleasant (but we won’t talk about that today). But it’s my job to help people that need it and that aspect manifests itself in different ways. Sometimes patrons know what they need and come boldly to the desk to ask for specifics of where it is. Sometimes they try on their own and then need some guidance. Often, people hesitate to approach the desk fearing they are interrupting something “more important”. And some people trick me by walking directly towards the desk and veering off at the last second. Or hovering at the periphery of my desk and when asked if they need anything say, “Oh, no. I’m fine”.
So with all of these diverse personalities and needs, I have noticed that there is a fine art to making appropriate eye contact with the customers. Too soon and it looks intimidating, too long and it feels creepy, not enough and it’s not friendly, not at all and it’s uninviting/rude. So I’m learning to judge based on trial and error.
Here are some tips:
- Take casual glances around the room to be aware of who is walking around.
- Don’t try to make eye contact if there is more than 10 feet of space between you.
- If they look like they need help but are avoiding eye contact, go ahead and give a gentle prompt, “Can I help you with anything?” or an open ended, “Let me know if you need anything.”
- If they give you the creeps, look anywhere but directly in their eyes—chin, over their shoulder, at them but not directly into the cobra gaze.
If all else fails and you run headlong into awkwardness—just smile and go with the flow! People respond much more positively to friendly gracelessness than apathy.