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#blogjune - Guest post by Andrew Kelly: How I learnt to love conflict


 JD Hancock (flickr)

"Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano's edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man." - Shan Yu (Firefly, 2002)

Six months ago I accepted a job as branch librarian in a large public library system; a step up from my previous position as an eServices Coordinator. I inherited a branch that has been well used by the community, and an existing team who have over eighty years collective knowledge between them. Stepping into this job I was reminded of the above quote. This job is my volcano.

Now, I'm not new to management and I have prior experience running a branch in various acting positions and I even ran a small special library for three years. What's different is, I have recently been exposed to an interesting cultural change that started from the top and was trickling down through all staff.

As a senior staff member I participated in a leadership course that, among other things, showed us that not only was conflict a good thing, but that it helped create high performance teams. None of this thinking is new but it's one thing to read an article about it and another to actually live it. I for one learnt that I avoided conflict, always looking for the easy way out making sure everyone was happy (even at my own expense). What I thought was good leadership (no conflicts here!) was actually the opposite, what I was missing was relationship building.

Relationships are built out of conflict. This isn't to say that we should be fighting all the time but we shouldn't be giving in either. When two (or more) people have a problem there are three main ways we react: parental (do it my way), child (I want it my way) or adult (conversation). Without going into a full pop-psych lecture, the interesting thing is when we try to have an adult reaction. This is often called a 'win-win' situation (not a compromise!) when both parties get what they need. Getting to a win-win scenario often involves having difficult conversations, actually asking the other party what their needs are and explaining your own. Difficult but often worth it, as it's in these moments that understanding comes and relationships are built.

Taking all this with me I'm trying to embrace conflict in my branch, something that's easier said than done. Actively encouraging staff to communicate their problems to each other and build relationships is difficult, especially when there is 20+ years of history involved. I have a long road ahead but I feel that actively engaging in conflict rather than running away from it, while hard, will ultimately help me be a better leader and create a high performing team. Next time conflict arises, be it in your work or personal life, try and take it as an opportunity to build a relationship rather than something to overcome. You may surprise yourself. 
Andrew Kelly

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1 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your post, Andrew. As a matter of interest, which library or system do you work for?