I’d like to think my title is an original sentiment, but somebody, somewhere, must have said it before because it makes so much sense.
I was having a conversation the other day, and the person I was talking to said this, “Librarians avoid confrontation and conflict like the plague. They don’t like to step in it.”
Ever since then, this title has been running through my head, so I thought, okay, I’ll just use it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say once I got past the title, though. But I think I’m beginning to figure it out.
On the same day, it also occurred to me that while there are many robust, confrontational, and intense conversations happening online in the library world (check out the comments section of any prominent blog), many of them are taking place anonymously and with no accountability. I’ve written about this before, and one person called me on it. I still say that if you’re going to say something, then you should own it. No matter what. If not, then don’t say it. If you fear repercussions, then you have to weigh the potential severity of those repercussions against the value and importance of what you have to say and either say it or remain silent. But don’t hedge by remaining anonymous.
That’s not easy to do and chances are good that honesty may get you nothing but grief in return. But without the honesty and the hard conversations in our workplaces, then all we have is virtual dialogue that matters only in cyberspace, which is an entirely different reality. If you must remain anonymous, then by all means reserve your anonymity for the blog conversations. When it comes to your own workplace, let your voice be heard and put your name to it.
That said, I also understand that the reality in many workplaces is that honesty can sometimes get you fired or otherwise penalized. Fortunately, that is not the case for me. Even though the leadership where I work is such that honesty is not only permitted but encouraged, I still find it hard to be completely honest about everything all the time. It’s hard to speak your mind when you’re not sure if your mind is sound or off its rocker. It’s hard to be blunt when you’re not certain how what you want to say will be received. It’s even harder when you know that what you have to say will not be received well.
But if we all remain silent for fear of causing conflict, then nothing changes and we don’t progress. Holding in what we really think can sometimes lead to bitterness, resentment, and passive-aggressive behavior–none of which fosters a productive environment.
It’s not easy to grab the bull by the horns, and it will probably be messy. But the alternative is to let the bull run you over or get away, and then you’re left only with a missed opportunity to grow stronger by wrangling that bull and facing it head on.
I say don’t cause conflict where it’s not necessary, but don’t avoid it when it is…necessary. Don’t be afraid to step in it now and then. As they say, sh** happens.