Leading change – conflict resolution
After completing the conflict resolution questionnaire, it is was interesting to see what kind of conflict management style I have.
I absolutely dread conflict. It’s the stuff that gives me nightmares and exacerbates my anxiety ten-fold. My results suggest that my strengths lie in compromising and collaboration (13 and 15 respectively), and I whole-heartedly agree with this. My lowest score was an 8 for ‘avoiding’, and this is absolutely true.
My approach to managing conflict, historically, has been to gain advice and support from colleagues who may be removed from the situation. I find being able to talk about it, share my ideas and concerns out loud, has helped me immensely. I find as I get older that I am getting better at dealing with conflict.
I had a situation in the library last year, whereby I inadvertently (and unintentionally) offended somebody, and it created terrible conflict. As our library is a shared space with other colleagues outside of the library staff, an innocent email sent to all staff was received well by everyone except one staff member. This staff member sent a rather upsetting retort to all recipients in the original email, and it was targeted at me. I felt that I had to approach this staff member face-to-face to apologise and explain that my email was not interpreted in the way I had hoped.
After much deliberation and apprehension, I went to her office to offer an explanation and apology. Instead of a calm and meaningful conversation/discussion, my colleague abused me, yelled at me, pointed her finger at me, and I left her office stunned and incredibly upset. It actually reduced me to tears. I lost sleep over this one. I have often thought about how I could have addressed this situation better. According to Plocharczyk (2013), the earlier the conflict is dealt with, the greater the chances that the conflict will be resolved. When I received her response, I realised how my intention had been misinterpreted, and I immediately wanted to resolve it, so I approached her within the hour of her email being sent. But it didn’t go down as well as I had hoped (not at all!). The next few days were awful, in fact, the next few months were icy and uncomfortable. I did try to remain calm and treated her with respect, but it took months for the situation to be resolved.
In hindsight, I probably should never have sent the email, but I manage the library space and I am responsible for the smooth and respectful co-sharing of this space. Perhaps if I had spoken to each staff member individually, this would have been far more effective. I need to develop greater confidence in addressing issues and finding the courage to have those difficult conversations.
Plocharczyk, L. (2013). Managing conflict and incivility in academic libraries. In K. Blessinger & P. Hrycaj (Eds.). Workplace culture in academic libraries (pp. 307-319). Elsevier.