Managing Conflict

Wouldn’t it be great if we always got along? I’m not sure it would always be a good thing because everyone agreeing would mean we would explore new options less frequently. But for good or ill, we don’t have to worry about that. There will always be conflicts.

Handling conflicts requires two aspects of social intelligence: understanding your emotions and managing them. How do you normally respond when you feel attacked or judged? Do you go on the offensive? Do you try to prove you are not responsible? Or do you deflect and try to show how you were misunderstood, and that isn’t what you meant or intended?

As Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”  You must be honest about your own behaviors to be able to manage the response. Remember, the conflict won’t be defused unless calm heads prevail, and it starts with you. A question to keep in mind is, “Do you want to be right, or do you want it to work?” Because, if you want to be right, it won’t work.

In her post, How Leaders Can Start Building Conflict Capacity, Marlene Chism defines conflict capacity as, the “ability to tolerate conflict without getting triggered into unconscious reactions.” She notes it requires self-awareness, which boils down to knowing yourself. Chism then offers four ways to develop the necessary capacity.

  1. Reframe Conflict – Mindset is always crucial. If you see conflict as two sides fighting each other, you are likely to focus on being right and winning. Instead, view it as a chance to explore where things aren’t working with the goal of improving the situation. A challenge almost always provides an opportunity. This disagreement provides the impetus to move forward in a better way.
  2. Get Curious – Rather than thinking some form of “Well, they’re wrong,” find out why and how they came to their viewpoint. Chism says you do this by inviting conversation with questions like “Will you walk me through your thinking?” or “I’m curious. How did you come to that decision?” This pauses the heat that is building. It also communicates your willingness to listen rather than drown out what they are saying.
  3. Expand Your Comfort Zone – When you are dealing with people with low conflict capacity, as defined by Chism, it is hard to resist interrupting them. Don’t. Let them go on. Eventually, they will lose steam. As the person keeps talking, keep your focus on listening for the core issue that set them off. It will help you respond when they get to the end of their rant, and it will also send a further message that you see them and their issue.
  4. Seek Mentoring – This recommendation is to build relationships before the crisis comes. You know which teachers have the reputation as complainers. In an organization, there are always some who don’t want to follow the leader. When you interact with these people, be sure to do your best to release what you’ve heard and connect. Get to understand them, and what motivates them. Any challenges that come – and they mostly likely will—will be less heated because of your pre-existing relationship. Don’t neglect the relationship with your principal. This connection shouldn’t wait for a crisis. Find reasons to ask for their advice and support  – and listen to it.

When you change your perspective, conflicts can become opportunities. The more you grow as a leader, the more of these you will need to deal with. Learning to manage yourself and handle these challenges are an important part of building strong relationships and part of your growth. Keep going.


When Less Is More

Are you one of those people who strive to give 100% every day – to everything? Where has that gotten you? More often than you’d like, you’re probably exhausted, somewhat cranky, and likely feeling unappreciated. And if self-care isn’t on your to-do list, it isn’t happening. When we stretch ourselves beyond our limits, we slip into a negative mindset while draining our abilities to keep going. We look at all we are doing, all that still needs to be done, and find ourselves coming up lacking.  

What if, instead, we worked to get the maximum return for the time allotted? Not necessarily, giving 100% all the time, but making smart, specific choices about what we do and when we do it – and how much it truly needs from us.

It starts by determining the level of importance of any task. Does it promote or advance your Mission and Vision? When you think about it being completed, what will be achieved as a result? Once you’ve gotten clear on these decisions and distinctions, do it as excellently as possible within the parameters you gave it.

Kristin Hendrix explains the concept of less is more in How an Athlete Mindset Helps Me Optimize My Work Performance. Thinking of our job in the context of an athlete makes the idea more understandable. No athlete trains or plays their sport at maximum level all the time. Basketball players don’t play the same way in the middle of the game as they do in the final minutes.

Hendrix makes 5 key points:

Top performance doesn’t come from constant 100% effort – What would a basketball player have left in the final minutes if they were playing full-out throughout the game? Hendrix notes this is true for our mental strength as much as for physical strength. As she observes, responding to the expectation that we will give our best all the time leads to “mental exhaustion, stagnation, and burnout.”

Plan for the surge – It’s easy for athletes to know when to draw on the reserves they have been saving. They have a time clock or other way to know the end is looming. We have deadlines. That’s when we need to be able to give our maximum effort. It is almost certain that every  project will have problems as the finish draws near. That’s when we need to have enough in reserve to go into overdrive to that we can see things through to a strong completion.

Case study: Mindful surges to avoid overwhelm – As librarians you have an inordinate number of jobs and tasks to accomplish. AASL’s National School Library Standards lists your 5 roles: Leader, Instructional Partner, Information Specialist, Teacher, and Program Administrator (pp14-15). On a daily/weekly basis you have things to do for each. Note where the deadlines loom for each and plan for those “surges” by cutting back on your other tasks as needed. Do you have several important tasks that have overlapping needs? Write them down, get clear on what’s needed, and what the deadlines are. Planning, will keep your energy levels where they need to be.

Building up our strength and stamina – As you take on new roles or increasingly more significant roles as a leader, whether in your building/district or on a state/national level there is much to learn. It can be hard initially to get a grip on what you need to do and in what order. The answer Hendrix recommends is scaffolding. Determine what you need to know and what you don’t know yet. Look for the people and sources that can help you learn it. Depending on the situation, social media groups, Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) or mentors can give you the support and information you need. With each step, you’ll know more and be stronger for the next time – and you’ll need less energy because you can better prepare.

Want to outperform?  Underperform first – Hendrix alludes to the story of the turtle and the hare, modifying it by recommending we be the turtle at the start and the hare as the finish line approaches. Compare your mood and mindset when you are taking short breaks as compared with when you do everything all day full-out. When do you accomplish the most? What about your mood? Learn what works, what helps, and how you can improve the next time.

Don’t let the work of being a leader bog you down. Learn to give less in order to give more. By managing your time, energy, and priorities, you will be better able to embrace your work and the enjoyment that leadership brings.

Building Trust – Redux

I wrote about this same topic in July 2022, so why am I repeating it? Because it’s of vital important to leadership and reinforcing what we know helps us to deepen our understanding

To reiterate the opening of my original blog post, Trust is the foundation of relationships, and as you know, we are in the relationship business. Either we keep our relationships strong, or we will soon find ourselves out of business. Trust takes time to build. And it can be easily lost.

As a leader your integrity needs to be unquestioned. You must be careful not to let slip things spoken to you in confidence or things you’re aware of because your work crosses grade level boundaries. What one teacher shares with you, you cannot share with another. And if you make a mistake – own it and correct it as soon as possible.

Take time to ask: How trustworthy are you? Have you ever broken trust? How good are you at building trust? In addition to the ways I discussed in the July blog, John Millen presents these Five Ways to Communicate as a Trusted Leader:

  1. Share Yourself – In addition to learning the interests of those with whom you are cultivating a relationship, don’t forget to let them know who you are. It requires you to be vulnerable in some ways, but the result is increased connections and sometimes, new understanding. Relationships need to be a two-way street.
  2. Change Your Mindset from ‘I’ to ‘We’ Don’t separate yourself from the teachers even if your goals and missions seem different. Find the places where there is overlap. Although it’s become cliché, there is truth to the adage, “There is no ’I’ in ‘Team.’ It’s not a case of “I would like to …” but rather “Together we can….”
  3. Admit your failuresThis is a tough one. Leaders are supposed to be confident. Admitting failure seems counterintuitive. But when a project misses its mark, accept and admit it. Discuss how “we” (see #2) can do it differently next time or tweak it to make it work better. And there’s another benefit. Admitting your failure gives permission to others to admit theirs. It will grow your relationships. Just remember to keep what was shared confidential.
  4. Ask open-ended questions – You do that when you ask how a project might have worked better rather than was it a success. When a fuller response is needed, you increase the depth of your communications. The more authentic your communications are, the better your relationships are. You will be amazed by what you can learn. Asking for a deeper response shows you value the other person’s ideas. When you value others, they respond in kind. It’s a win-win.
  5. Listen more than you speak –You’ve asked an open-ended question – listen to the answer. You can’t learn about someone else if you are doing most of the talking. If you are an extrovert like me, you may have to continually work at this. This is an area where introvert leaders have strength. You are not really listening if you are waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can say what’s on your mind. If necessary, quickly write down your thought and get back to focusing on what is being said.

As Millen says early in his post and in his conclusion, “Trust is everything.” It is the foundation of relationships which we need for our program’s success. Building relationships is a core component of what we must do as leaders. With whom do you want to build a relationship? Look for the ways you can build trust and those relationships will flourish.

Developing Your Self Confidence

Confidence is essential to leadership. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to lead without it. Who would follow a leader who was unsure or always second-guessing themselves? Your self-confidence is evident in your voice, both spoken and written, when you propose a project. It is what helps you get out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges. It inspires others to follow you, secure in the belief that you know where you are going and will get there successfully.

This doesn’t mean leaders are arrogant or think they can never be wrong. Confidence is about the trust you have in yourself. You trust your Vision and your knowledge. You trust the relationships you have built with others, knowing they will tell you when you may have overlooked something important. According to Joel Garfinkle, you can become more self-confident by following the steps he presents in  Five Ways to Boost Leadership Self-Confidence.

1. Practice self-examination – Look at your history and the ideas and projects you launched. If you have been leading, there will be a number of them, including those that didn’t work. Garfinkle notes it may sound counterintuitive to look at failures in order to become self-confident, but we learn from our failures. What didn’t work on those projects? What did? What could have made them more successful? What should be repeated and built on? Recognize there will be failures in the future, but the knowledge you gain in this self-examination will contribute to more successes in the future, bolstering your self-confidence

2. Exercise your influence – Garfinkle urges participation in your “organization’s decision-making.” For us, this means being on committees that allow us to showcase that knowledge and expertise. It can also mean contributing at faculty meetings or offering sessions for teachers to help them use the library to support their work. When we see how others recognize our contributions, self-confidence is built. It may not seem like it, but you do have influence. You have proven knowledge and expertise in areas that others don’t have. In the relationships you have built, you have demonstrated it.

3. Motivate others – The combination of relationships and demonstrated expertise encourages others to listen to you. Garfinkle recommends developing gravitas – “the calm, open demeanor of a leader who both speaks and listens with respect and humility.”  As you live and share your vision, which should be inspiring to begin with, you will connect with others who will be motivated to become part of making it a reality.

4. Embrace personal development – As you learn and grow, so too does your self-confidence. Then you must take the learning a step further by putting it into action. Being on those committees and an active member of local, state, and national organizations serves two purposes. First, you grow professionally as you see the larger picture which affects you and your library. Second, your vocabulary changes as you incorporate your learning into how you explain an issue or project. You are now speaking with confidence and the gravitas Garfinkle discusses. It’s a process of “absorb and apply.”

5. Improve your workplace – This refers to something larger than redesigning your library. How can you make an impact on the social and emotional environment of your school? When you make the library a safe, welcoming space, you do the same with the educational community. This is a much larger and ongoing task, requiring a big vision. Garfinkle says to “work with colleagues to improve a process, reduce barriers, increase teamwork or enhance morale.” Certainly, the last is a big issue in our schools today. He notes “working with others for the good of others” will increase your sense of your self-worth and by extention, your self-confidence.

Garfinkle concludes by stating: Confidence comes from an unshakeable sense of self, which requires consistent and continued dedication to your values, goals and personal self-worth  These five steps are a progression. They won’t happen overnight but think of the rewards. Build your self-confidence and transform your community.