Managing Difficult Conversations- Carla Cardno UNITECH

PENZ Inspired Leadership Programme – Session 3 and Breakout

The motivation for having a difficult conversation is the impact of an unsolved “people person” on student learning.

  • Middle managers work with and through other people to achieve goals
  • Often the “meat in the sandwich” so may have to have difficult conversations with those below and above.

Depends on

  • Understanding the complexity
  • Theory / practice
  • AKA Fierce, courageous, learning, open to learning, productive conversations, disciplined dialogue

“Be nice to Penny”

If you really want to make a difference to the quality of teaching and learning then you must have difficult conversations

Leadership dilemmas – productive conversations – “wicked” problems

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  • Can’t be resolved
  • Rock /hard place
  • Different goals and values
  • Messy and complex


  • Remains unresolved
  • Tensions between organisation and relational factors

The theory of models of behaviour (Argyis and Schon)

Model 1, want to win, want control, don’t want to be upset or upset others, avoid unpleasant

Model 2, share info, share control, joint solutions, mutual goals

Normal response is model 1, but we think we are model 2

We need the ability to shift to model 2

Defensive strategies – skirting tough issues, mixed messages, excuse it, blame others,

Through learning we could shift our guiding values and strategies to Model 2

Leads to a productive conversation which offers an alternative to doing nothing

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