Rules of Engagement

In “Planning for, not Denial of Workplace Conflict,” the authors assert that “Any level of effective supervision requires alertness to the psychological and emotional ambience of a work area and the people therein, with a constant monitoring of the social climate.” They continue, “Each day you work as a supervisor, you establish and reestablish the kind of social culture that directly affects your workplace.” The four “rules of engagement” I’ve suggested below together establish a social culture which acknowledges that conflict is a natural, expected, and often healthy outcome of engaged participation in the workplace. They reinforce a social climate of teamwork, an expectation of mutual validation and support, and provide some general guidelines for keeping personal interactions functional.

Rule 1: Communicate as a team. Co-workers are valuable sources of information. Ask each other questions, and don’t begrudge co-workers who do. Seek verification and validation from each other. Help each other out. No one knows everything. Fill each other’s gaps to make the department a functioning whole. Avoid competing against your co-workers. Keeping information to yourself will hold you back.

Rule 2: Being professional doesn’t require pretending everything is fine when it’s not. Professional is how we manage the times when absolutely nothing is fine. Everyone has bad days, bad weeks, some people have bad lives. Communicate when life is keeping you from handling things the way you would like. Encourage each other, work around problems, work together to get back on track.

Rule 3: Don’t immediately take things personally. Give your co-workers the benefit of the doubt. What you perceive as a slight may be nothing more than differing communication styles or someone else’s bad day. You have faults. Everyone else does too. Let’s all let each other be human.

Rule 4: Be inclusive, discourage breaking up into smaller subgroups, avoid favoritism. Be careful with the line between professional and personal socialization. Obviously, romantic relationships at work come with a whole host of complications and should be avoided. But friendships that cross over to one’s personal life can just as easily complicate professional dynamics, throughout the whole team not only between friends, especially when positions of authority or seniority are involved.

Despite Wilkinson & Wilkinson’s surprise at the fact that “the graph approach to conflict has engendered very little published interest in librarianship,” related in their article, “Plotting Conflict,” the lack of interest in this management style is little surprise at all. What good are data and statistics when the accompanying article relating them is dry enough to make one’s eyes bleed? No one will read about it, let alone put the method into practice. Though I can see the benefit of matching management style to professional maturity, similarly to the benefit of matching communication styles suggested in the “Planning for…Conflict” article referenced above, you will not find the graph approach to conflict management reflected in my workplace “rules of engagement.”

Cook, E.I. & Montgomery, J. G. (2005). Planning For, not Denial of Workplace Conflict. In Conflict management for libraries: strategies for a positive, productive workplace. Chicago: ALA.

Wilkinson, M. A. (1997). Plotting Conflict. Library Administration & Management, 11, 205-216.

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