Kristy Nerhaugen, Duluth Public Library

In March of 2017, I had the privilege of attending the Power Up: A Leadership Conference for Youth Services Managers and Staff. Thank you to the Arrowhead Library System for their support that enabled me to attend this amazing conference. As a new leader, this conference was very empowering and educational for me.

My favorite session and the most useful session that I attended at the conference was titled, Addressing the Need for Confrontation and was presented by Renee Wallace, Head of Youth Services at the Clark County Public Library in Kentucky. No one enjoys confrontation, but it is something every leader in library encounters regularly with staff and with patrons. As Renee points out, many managers are intimidated by confrontation. In this session, Renee gave us tools and tips for how to best deal with these uncomfortable situations.

During her presentation, Renee focused on how to approach an uncomfortable and possibly confrontational meeting with a staff member. Whenever possible, Renee suggests that you manage your own discomfort first before a confrontational situation. Make sure you are physically comfortable and take time to calm down before the confrontation. When getting ready for a meeting with a staff member that could be uncomfortable, prepare a script for yourself beforehand. It should be a brief outline of what you want to discuss with the staff member. The script should also include prompts for yourself (for example: be pleasant, remember to breathe). Have realistic expectations, but also have a clear desired outcome in mind and focus on this desired outcome. Be sure to document any of these meetings you have with staff members and, if it’s necessary, inform your supervisor or library director. At the end of a difficult conversation, review what was said and make sure expectations are explained and clear.

Renee also offered some other great advice about being a leader in general. She suggests that you deal with situations when they arise. If a situation isn’t dealt with right away, it will be an issue that you continue to deal with over and over again. Don’t delay because it’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation. Deal with it now. Also, lead by example. Be a person who is setting an example for your staff. Be sure to set clear expectations of staff. If your staff knows what you want and what to expect of them, this will limit the number of talks you have to have with staff. Communication is key.

Renee also talked about the importance of having a departmental mission and a personal passion. These two things drive everything you do at work and make it easier to explain to people (staff especially) where you’re coming from when you deal with a confrontational situation. Renee said her department’s mission is to connect kids and teens with books. Her personal passion is to level the playing field and help all children get ready to read and develop a love a reading.

Renee Wallace’s session about Addressing the Need for Confrontation motivated me to work to develop my own mission and passion to fuel everything I do at my library. I also am working to set a better example for my staff and to focus on communication. I now have some great tools to use the next time I am faced with a confrontation—with staff or with patrons.