Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Presentation Notes: SirsiDynix's Library Conflict Management Webinar

I just completed listening to the online web seminar on Library Conflict Management offered by SirsiDynix. I have to say that after sitting an hour for it, I was a bit disappointed in this one. It seemed a bit too theoretical and not practical enough. In addition, the presenter seemed to be moving a bit too fast, which may be a reflection of trying to cover too much information in a short amount of time. It did have a lot of information. In the initial poll they ran, it turns out that a little over half of the attendants were public librarians (or from public libraries), which I admit makes me wonder about their settings. The seminar gave some signs of unhealthy conflict, key questions to ask, and four magic words to keep in mind. These are useful things, but in essence, for me at least, it seemed a bit too centered on "you have to change" and less on "what about when you do change but nothing still happens." In other words, as my father used to say, "if you bend over too much. . ." you get the idea. Personally, I don't bend over very well. I am flexible, but I only go so far. So in a way, the seminar's advice seemed a bit too idealistic. The reason it concerns me is because that line of thinking often leads to the conclusion of "if it's not working, it may be time to move on." But, there are still some useful ideas.
  • The three key questions to ask when trying to resolve a conflict: what do you want? what about the other person? what will you change? The presenter noted that it is often very easy to forget about the other/opposing person in a conflict.
  • The four magic words: what do you want next? what do you want instead? what do you want despite? what would satisfy you? Asking about what is next is looking towards the future. One should not be obssessed with the past; it is not healthy. Asking about instead and despite serve to acknowledge that the world is not perfect, and it looks towards making a change.
  • You need to have empathy. However, empathy does not mean you agree with the other party. It means that you understand how something affects them. Also, remember to give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • The presenter emphasized the importance of taking civility seriously, even if it means putting in as part of job descriptions and making sure people are evaluated on this as well as being evaluated on their more technical/job skills. This would definitely be nice. It is not something we need to worry about in terms of our workplace, but some of the patrons do have the ability to push the limits of civility. However, the seminar only concentrated on the workplace.
The seminar also looked at a list of bad symptoms. There were ten items on the list, which I am sure readers can look over in the archive once it is available. I just have some thoughts.
  • The presenter started with bitterness as the first item. In the personal front, if you are bitter, you become toxic to others. So, it may be time for you to move on. Just remember not to take that bitterness with you. If you go to a new job, forget the old one, never talk about it, leave it behind. After all, you are looking to the future.
  • Another bad symptom is stopped learning. This I would consider catastrophic, maybe because I could not envision myself as not learning. If I get to that point, I know I have to quit. To cure this, the presenter suggests including continuous learning in job descriptions and holding people accountable for it. Another bad symptom was stopped contribution where people just stick to a rote and refuse to be cross-trained or seek new tasks. The solution is the same as dealing with stopped learning.
  • Loss of respect was listed as number eight on the list, but it probably should be higher on the list. Under this, sarcasm can be a very bad sign. Personally, respect is a big issue for me, and I see it as something you earn. You are owed courtesy, but respect you have to earn. So, if you don't respect a leader/administrator, options are either leaving, isolation, or minimizing the disrespect.
  • Another issue was lack of consequences. This would be situations where: no one is ever disciplined or fired (due to conflict aversion), where there is no praise or reward, and/or where there are no evaluations or accountability. The question I would ask is what if there are evaluations, but they hold no consequences. In other words, an evaluation becomes an annual (or semiregular) ritual exercise that does not bring any merit reward (monetarily or otherwise), and it probably ends up in a dossier someplace that will not be revisited. If there is no incentive other than the ritual, what is the point? I would not mind an answer to that.
So, I would give this one a mixed review. There may be some good things for people who may not know anything on the topic. However, if you have already seen other workshops on the topic or read on it, there is nothing here terribly new.

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