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Do difficult conversations keep you awake at night?

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Even the most knowledgeable, confident manager can lack confidence when having to deal with a disciplinary issue, internal conflict or challenging performance management discussions.

At a time when business is becoming ever more competitive, the emphasis on robust performance management can put pressure on managers to maximise productivity, and some employees may feel that they are unable to meet the expectations of their manager.
The inability of an organisation’s leaders to deal with such situations has been cited by employees as one of the major reasons for seeking alternative employment; maintaining workplace harmony can protect the significant amount of time, energy and cost invested in recruiting and developing workers.

A survey conducted by mediation service ACAS, and published in the research paper Managing individual conflict in the contemporary British workplace (2016), addresses the trends, causes and methods used to deal with conflict. It concludes that a big part of the problem is, ‘the lack of conflict competence among frontline managers.’

For many managers, the immediate response to a challenging staff issue is to ignore it, but this only leads to increased resentment within the team and often escalates the problem. There is still an organisational culture of dealing with difficulties in a reactive way, as and when they arise. How can these situations be dealt with more amicably?

Debora Brockwell, Programme Director on the Henley Business School’s Developing Management Practice (DMP) programme, believes that we all deal with conflict differently – good managers and leaders have to understand the options and develop a confidence in applying a range of approaches that will yield positive outcomes whatever the characteristics of their colleagues.

‘Firstly, there needs to be a robust, systematic and clearly understood approach to performance management within any organisation,’ says Debora, ‘which includes regular dialogue as well as annual reviews.’

The DMP programme uses a variety of tools and techniques – including the Thomas-Kilmann and Myers-Briggs – to assess each delegate’s style and preferences, this helps emphasise the flexible approach needed to resolve conflict.

The programme introduces new perspectives that support individuals to have level-headed conversations. The aim is to instil the confidence needed to tackle difficult scenarios by equipping managers with the capability to either avoid the conflict in the first place, or recognise when action is needed and take that action promptly and decisively.

For details of the Henley Business School Developing Management Practice programme visit

Debora Brockwell

Executive Fellow
Published 30 March 2017

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