Beware of Disproportionate Positive Response
I like being nice. Not in-your-face manic friendliness but just a nice smile and some polite conversation while I’m helping at the reference desk. Everybody reacts a little differently. Some people are indifferent, some people are irritated, some people like it, some people appreciate it… and some people take it personally.
Indifferent people just nod and walk off when they are done. Irritated people usually don’t linger. People who like it may stay and chat for minute about the weather. Appreciative people often say the rare “Thank you for your help!” And then there are those who take it personally.
Not that they take is as an insult but that it means more than just general nicety on my part. These are the people (not to be stereotypical but 9 out of 10 of these patrons happen to be men) who linger and chat and give a lot more information about their lives than any random person needs to know. They are the ones that give increasingly personal compliments and start to feel an investment in how I feel or act.
“Let me tell you about my… and then… of course… after that…”
“Oh, you have dog hair on the back of your shirt, you should clean that up; you want to look your best.”
“You’re so nice, can I give you something to say thank you?”
“You’re so sweet. Can I adopt you?”
And the kicker---a rose with baby’s breath in a bud vase delivered to the library with just my name and the name of the sender… who I couldn't place with a face.
I typically don’t deal with monikers, just nameless faces that come up and need help. Almost a week later and I still don’t know who it was because nobody has mentioned it, claimed it or anything.
On the surface this might seem like a very thoughtful gesture. A piece of bygone chivalry that is now lacking in today’s society; an indication that some people will still go above and beyond when they feel it is truly necessary; a hint of romance in an era where gallantry is severely lacking.
The other piece of the equation is me. Little old me. Because now I have to discern the meaning behind this mystery gift and what might have prompted it. Who gave it? Why? Is it meaningless? Is it portentous? Did I give someone the wrong impression? Is this person expecting something in return?
I think what I’m so worried about is that this person will show up and indicate they would like a bit more… personal interaction (e.g. date). Now it is my burden to say no in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings. Several of my co-workers who have been working with the general public much longer than I have encouraged me to be suspicious, detached, private and essentially aloof (though polite). One is now worried because the restraining order he had put in place against a particular lady is about to expire—these are legitimate concerns about the intensity of unreciprocated adoration. The problem with being aloof, detached, or suspicious is that it's not me. I can’t do that which is probably what landed me in this fix to begin with.
So, I would just like to let it be known that no matter how appreciative you are of someone’s help, a simple “Thank you” is more than enough.