I was struck by the similarities between physicians and library staff while listening to Dr. Lisa Sanders, who writes the Diagnosis column for the New York Times Magazine and is an analyst for the television show House, on NPR the other night.
Dr. Sanders stated that in two surveys physicians let their patients tell their stories for only 20 second or even interrupting after 3 seconds with a question. Sanders stated that on average a patient takes 2 minutes to tell their story, so all they need to wait is 2 minutes. Dr. Sanders told some startling tales of physicians who weren't allowed to share their whole story, and because of this it took much longer for the physician to come to a diagnosis. She also commented on how patients won't complete their story if interrupted!
This really reminded me of the reference interview. If we jump in as soon as the patron asks a question, or guess at what they are looking for, or don't ask the probing questions during the reference interview- the interaction can do south and in the end not help the patron at all, or even worse, maybe hurt them if we cross the health/legal information boundary to advice.
I am amazed how almost everyday I see the reference interview in different situations, and often when I have the best customer service those staff were following the reference interview steps.