Dealing With Conflict Is Doing Your Job

Not all conflict is dramatic or obvious.  But having a sharp eye for evidence of conflict is essential.  Leaders who ignore such evidence end up leading organizations that are in disarray, rife with factions, and far less effective and productive than healthier libraries.  Disagreement is healthy.  But suppressed disagreement is not.  Encourage disagreement; in a meeting, watch people’s faces for reactions; call on those people.  Ask, “Do you have a different thought?  Are there better solutions?” Surfacing disagreement often brings more balanced and successful solutions to whatever issue is on the table. 

There are people who thrive in an us-versus-them atmosphere.  Back-biting and second-guessing can be entertaining and a diversion from boring or familiar tasks.  People can bond over dislike of others who are threatening to them.  Leaders set the tone for the organization.  If you as leader can deal with different opinions without rancor, if you have worthy adversaries rather than enemies, others will respond.   

The candidates you interview won’t necessarily tell you if the atmosphere in your library is poisonous, but they will tell you if it isn’t.  When interviewing candidates (near the end of their interview days), I ask them what they have learned about us.   Comments such as, “I got the impression people really know and like each other,” or, “There seem to be a lot of opportunities for interaction here,” are volunteered.  I reply that they have identified something that is a great source of pleasure and pride for me.  Most of us have worked in at least one dysfunctional organization (or in a period where your organization became or overcame dysfunction) and we know it when we see it.