Monday, 16 May 2011


I see that our Staff Development unit is offering a new course:

Handling Difficult Conversations:

Target Audience:
Any member of staff who needs to have one-to-one conversations that explore areas such as poor performance, inappropriate behaviour, negative attitudes, etc.
One difficult conversation came to mind: the one in which the Executive announced that it had lost several million pounds after being caught misleading the government, and that a large number of the teaching and support staff would be fired to pay for it.

It wasn't handled very well. The Vice-Chancellor 'took full responsibility', as she put it, by staying on and getting a large pay rise. Ditto her senior henchmen.

Perhaps I should go on it. I have difficult conversations all the time, with students and with management in my union role ('why have you cheated?'; why do you think telling your staff they're useless is good practice?').

I'm a bit shocked that we're considered so inhumane that we (or they) need training in the art of conversation. How about this: be calm, polite and solicitous but firm. Have all the facts to hand and know the legal situation. Don't ambush people, and attempt a degree of empathy. That wouldn't take 3 hours!

Some organisations are less subtle. When I worked for Transco, they treated us with utter contempt. The matter of our firing was particularly well done. We turned up for the 10 p.m.-4 a.m. shift and there was no work to do - because we'd finished it all, it turned out. They didn't tell us this at 10 p.m. No, we sat there, forbidden to talk or even read, until the end of the shift. As we left, we were told not to come back again. They hadn't told us earlier in case we trashed the database or staged some kind of protest.

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