A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Communication and Conflict Resolution at the Library

by on July 12, 2018

“That guy is snoring really loud.”

“I don’t think it’s fair that I have to pay overdue fees.”

“I don’t like you. Where is ____? I want him/her to help me.”

“The toilet is clogged. Are you going to fix it?”

I am a library technician at a busy branch located next to a bus and trolley stop. We do swift business and it is a given that I am answering questions similar to those listed above on every shift that I work. About a month ago, I attended a conflict resolution workshop hosted by the National Conflict Resolution Center (ncrconline.com). I went in with the idea that I would learn skills that would help me deal with difficult customers. I mean, who else would I have conflicts with? Little did I know that the workshop would prove valuable in every aspect of my life, professional and personal. Open and productive communication builds bridges; sorely needed at an institution like the public library, which serves all comers.

Here are some tips for improving communication and conflict resolution:

Active Awareness
It isn’t about you…actually, it kind of is about you. Because it starts with you.
Thankfully, all the uncomfortable stuff about looking inward came first in the four hour long session. I found out my communication style (I’m an unemotional communicator, I don’t run from confrontation, and I can see how this can be perceived as cold), noted my pre-existing biases (we all have them because we don’t grow up in a vacuum), and drew a line under my perceptions (not everyone likes non-fiction). This informs how we interact and communicate with people. Reminding ourselves of our perceptions and biases is the first step in effective communication. What you like/dislike isn’t the same for everyone.

Respond Respectfully
Rolling your eyes wordlessly is still disrespectful. Listen first to what the other person is saying. Respond in such a way that indicates you were listening. If you are multitasking during this conversation, stop. Look the patron in the eye during the conversation. Even if you disagree with what they are saying (remember your perceptions), stifle the urge to roll your eyes or cross your arms; this type of body language projects disrespect and defensiveness. How would you feel if someone rolled their eyes at you after you asked them a question? Also remember that it is difficult to talk with someone who seems defensive.

Troubleshoot Together
Let’s fix this together. You, and a co-worker, or perhaps a customer aren’t seeing eye-to-eye (hopefully not at the same time!). Speak calmly about your feelings. Give the other person a chance to share their thoughts. Thank them for being candid; acknowledge how hard it is to discuss difficult subjects. Work on a solution together and end on an upbeat note. Easier said than done but it gets a little easier with practice. One evening after work, my son told me that I seemed calm and happy. “Mom, was it a quiet day?” “No, not really,” I smiled. And that is perfectly fine.

For more information on effective communication and conflict resolution, please contact the National Conflict Resolution Center, www.ncrconline.com.

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