"Hi ! No, I can’t help you"
Have you noticed that sometimes when you approach people at a service desk, you get the impression they don’t really want to be there or to help you? The words they say may be fine, but the “no” is in their body language. At the reference desk, we may not even notice that we do it — we fold our arms, roll our eyes, or lean to one side as if we’re waiting for a bus when someone asks a question, perhaps one we’ve heard hundreds of times. I believe that although it may be subconscious, and may even affect our users subconsciously, it still has an effect.
I’ve personally been witness to fast food counter clerks, department store return agents, and reference librarians who — when a patron approaches the desk — unconsciously says “no” as their first response to the person’s question. Sometimes they’ll also shake their heads side to side or squint. All of these actions, even if it’s subsequently the best reference transaction in the world, give off the wrong first impression. It even happens in virtual reference; this must be just a bad habit some of us have fallen into.
Now that I’ve noticed this, I’ve been trying to adapt. . .sometimes forcing myself to smile, nod, and even say “yes” or “sure” even as soon as the first few words of a question are uttered. I know I’m overcompensating here, but maybe it will level off with practice! When someone says “maybe you can help me. . .” I want to insure that I say something positive in response, quickly, and with appropriate body language that communicates the same. We can become masters of subliminal advertising!