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No One Loves the Messenger Who Brings Bad News, but Avoidance is Not a Good Strategy

April 6, 2021
“No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.” ― Sophocles, Antigone

Many times, librarians are thrust into roles as managers with little or no training. Because of this reality, it is incumbent on supervisors to support them in their position by ensuring the cultivation of managerial skills. This is unfortunately too often neglected, however, since as the ACRL Statement on Professional Development states, “Learning, which is the key to acquiring and maintaining individual excellence, is ultimately the responsibility of the individual,” Avoidance, therefore, is one of the most common tactics library managers fall back on from among the styles for dealing with conflict.

More than 25 years ago, in a paper entitled “Making Human Resource Decisions,” Richard E. Rubin remarked, “Oftentimes, group members hesitate to deal with conflict leading to avoidance of important issues or attempts to suppress those who create conflict” (Critical Issues in Library Management: Organizing for Leadership and Decision-Making. Papers from the Thirty-Fifth Allerton Institute. Occasional Papers, Nos. 198/199). Perhaps due to the ubiquity of evasion this has only gotten worse.

Library managers not only have to continue to navigate troubled waters, but the global pandemic has forced libraries to face a maelstrom of turmoil. Library collections and personnel are not immune to the impact of the current situation, so managers should forthrightly address the reality of it with staff members.

Here are few basic tips which can help you escape the avoidance trap:

  • Understand all the facts
  • Practice what you will say by considering questions that may be asked
  • Be direct and get to the point
  • Prepare to be open, honest and to listen
  • Later, revisit the topic to talk about what’s next and lessons learned

Further Reading:

“Delivering Bad News? Don’t Beat around the Bush: New Research Shows People Typically Want to Hear It Straight.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171005141739.htm.

“Delivering Bad News To Employees in a Good Way.” https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/delivering-bad-news-to-employees.

“How to Break Bad News in the Workplace.” https://uxdesign.cc/breaking-bad-news-how-managers-can-prevent-catastrophe-1a8759ac6efd.

“How to Deliver Bad News to Your Employees.” https://hbr.org/2015/03/how-to-deliver-bad-news-to-your-employees.

“How To Deliver Difficult News With Compassion To Your Employees.” https://blog.trello.com/difficult-news-with-compassion.

“Why FAQs Are So Important—Especially When Communicating Bad News to Employees.” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-faqs-so-importantespecially-when-communicating-bad-alison-davis.

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