Episode 206 Conflict Management

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Contents of this page:
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Strategies
    • Conflict with patrons
    • Conflict between staff
  • Books We are Reading
  • Conclusion



Hi, and welcome back to Linking Our Libraries!

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Usually we talk about how wonderful libraries are – and they are! And we talk about cheery, happy, fun things in libraries – and there are tons of them! But today we are talking about a much more uncomfortable topic, but important in libraries: Conflict.

We are all about Minnesota Nice here, and it would be wonderful if everyone was nice, everyone agreed on library issues, and everyone agreed on everything. But we all know that when you work with other people, and when you work with members of the public, things do not always turn out so well. Conflict is inevitable and dealing with it can be hard.

But: like so many things, there is a process you can follow to make conflict situations better! We are going to walk through some ideas here to help reduce conflict situations, and hopefully to make things better. We are not going to fix everything – nothing will. But “better” is a good step in the right direction! Check out our podcast on Stress in the Workplace from Season One to get some good strategies for handling stress that may be a part of conflict.

So everyone take a deep, yoga breath, sit in a nice comfy chair or be engaged in a happy activity, and let’s talk about some skills for reducing conflict in your library.

We have material on our site for this episode; and we also have material on this skill, along with many others, available in our Skills Toolbox section of our site.



Some basics in any conflict:

  • Don’t ignore the problem and hope it will just get better: It doesn’t
  • Stay calm. Take a deep breath. Resist any urge to snap back.
  • Try to remove your emotions from the situation: Reflexive anger is not helpful; moving past it will be more useful
  • Fake this until you really do feel comfortable staying calm in the face of conflict and upset. (When you are done, go to the back room and kick a wall or something if you must! Eventually, that calmness does become real.)
Conflict with patrons:
  • Deep breath: it sounds silly, but if you can stay calm, that emotion will transfer – when everyone is upset and angry, things get too complex
  • If someone else not involved in the conflict can step in to do this, it can help to remove the emotion from it. If not, you need to be very deliberate about doing that yourself
  • Start with a phrase like “I’m so sorry you are upset. Please tell me about it.” And that can get you on the right foot. You are immediately showing you are ready to be open to what they have to say
  • Listen: be active in hearing what people have to say; sometimes they just want to say “this was so annoying and upsetting” and that will be enough, sometimes they need to have time to frame the situation without interruptions. Saying things like “yes, I see, tell me more, wow – I’d be upset too” and doing some nodding will help the person see you are taking what they say seriously
  • Restate what they said. “So that I’m clear on this, what you are saying is…blah, blah, blah…” Wait for them to agree, or to correct you.
  • Move on discussion of an ideal outcome. “Okay, I see the problem you are having. What would you like to happen next?”  Note here that you are NOT promising to fix everything, to do what they want, or anything else. You are only soliciting ideas from them, again so they feel heard.
  • Offering a solution. This may be something you can do on the spot “Yes, let’s just forgive these fines this time.” Or it may be something you say you need to think about and get back to them, or that you need to as a supervisor or other person about. Be sure that is real, and that you set a time for actually getting back to them – otherwise they feel like you just blew them off and get (justly) even angrier.
  • Try to end on a reasonably positive note. “Thank you for bringing this issue to me. I know we are were not able to fix everything for you, but we want to know when our patrons are not satisfied.”

Most people are happier at this point, if not thrilled. Being heard, knowing that they were taken seriously – that matters a lot. Sometimes that is as good as you can do; so call it a win!

You do want to provide good service, you want patrons to be happy; but you are not required to follow the whims of people who are abusive, threatening, or potentially violent. If the situation is beyond talking it out, have a security procedure in place to either have a security person escort the person out, or to call 911. The customer is not always right!


Conflict between staff:
  • Don’t overreact to everything – sometimes it’s just a quick issue
  • Have a grievance procedure: have a written process for people to follow so they know the appropriate way to respond to a colleague or to a boss who is causing a problem. (Think of The Future Evil Boss that might come along, and set up a process to prevent them from abusing employees!)
    • CMLE is ready to help you create one! Check out our website under Services; we have info assembled to make this work for you
  • Bring both people into your office (hopefully, this has not spread across the entire staff, library, or organization – then you really have problems!)
  • Tell everyone the ideas from above: deep breath, remove emotions, calm
  • Have one person clearly and concisely outline the problem (no interruptions from anyone!); keep it focused to NOW, to avoid talking about the last 20 years of annoyances
  • Have the next person clearly and concisely outline the problem
  • You take a deep, thoughtful breath; and then say “I think I understand the problem here to be, blah blah…” Get consensus on this before moving forward. (Hopefully, it all seems much smaller at this point than it did earlier)
  • Ask each person what they want to see as an outcome. (It is super if they both want the same thing!)
  • Decide on a solution. Tell them the timeline for implementing this solution. And bring them back to see if the solution worked.
  • If the conflict is over things that are beyond interpersonal differences, and into criminal behavior – fraud, theft, harassment, violence – everyone needs to know what to do. Calling the police, calling a HR office or an attorney for your parent organization (a city, a school, a university, a hospital), an office in the Board, or other outside agency. This should be in the grievance policy, and should be easily available to all staff.


These are fussily long lists of procedures, and not all will be necessary in every situation. But remembering the spirit of them, at the very least, will help you to manage conflicts so much better than just winging it.

Remember: CMLE Is here to help you. We offer a mediation service, and can help you to manage conflicts that occur in your library. There will ALWAYS Be conflicts!!! Learning to handle them well is an important step in your own professional development.



Books We are Reading



Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury “Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.”



I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere but the Pool (The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Woman), by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella “The bestselling and “perennially hilarious” mother-daughter team is back with a new collection of stories from their real lives, guaranteed to make you laugh out loud. Join Lisa and Francesca as they regret drunk-shopping online, try smell-dating, and explore the freedom of a hiatus from men – a Guyatus. They offer a fresh and funny take on the triumphs and facepalm moments of modern life, showing that when it comes to navigating the crazy world we live in, you’re always your own best lifeguard.”




We know libraries are wonderful! There will always be conflict, but we want to help you feel comfortable in acknowledging that it exists, and in working to handle it. Follow these tip, get more from our website, and know that we are here to help you when things get rough!

We support libraries!