Professional Development Programs

Professional Development Programs » Short Courses » Having the Difficult Conversations

Having the Difficult Conversations

9.00am-5.15pm, Friday, 16 March 2012
LH Martin Institute, The University of Melbourne
Level 1, 715 Swanston Street, Carlton

To many, tertiary institutions appear to attract more than their fair share of difficult people. It is true that most staff in tertiary institutions have been high achievers all their lives and have high expectations of themselves and of others. Unfortunately, a small proportion of high achievers either cease achieving, or become increasingly disruptive in the workplace. The supervisor’s time is spent dealing with their behaviour or its consequences.

Behavioural issues may result in aggression or bullying; refusal to participate in departmental strategies; acrimonious fights over research infrastructure; or bitter disputes over issues such as workload allocation. Sometimes, the behavioural issue is temporarily resolved while the staff member thinks that the supervisor will resolve concerns in their favour, only to break down in even more bitterness when that does not occur. Dealing with these behaviours is both difficult and debilitating, particularly as the supervisor may also be a colleague.

Managing behavioural issues through the standard industrial processes is complex, and likely to be unsuccessful. Other processes, such as informal mediation may be more successful, however, dealing with the behaviours is likely to take up 80% of the supervisor’s time - to the detriment of other staff in the department and their own careers. This program will help those with staff management responsibilities to deal with the issues effectively.

Who should attend?

Academic and professional staff in leadership roles including Directors, Deans, Heads of School/Department, HR Managers, or tertiary sector managers who have staff management responsibilities.


LH Martin Institute, The University of Melbourne. Level 1, 715 Swanston Street, Carlton.

Course fee

$1,100 ($1,210 incl. GST)

Course content

Key themes covered include:

  • Understanding what drives high conflict individuals.
  • Dealing with different types of conflict personality.
  • Alternate forms of managing conflict.
  • The legal/industrial framework.

Download the full program (pdf) for more information.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing this program, participants will gain an understanding of:

  • drivers of high conflict behaviours
  • appropriate forms of interaction with high conflict staff
  • alternate means of managing conflict.


'Good useful information on dealing with conflict.’ (2011 participant)

'Excellent presenters.' (2011 participant)

Program facilitator

Liz Baré commenced her working life in charge of a small specialist library in a government agency, supervising two other staff. There she learnt valuable lessons in management, supervision and working in complex organisations. She moved through a series of technical and line management positions in that agency, and in 1983 was appointed to head its 50 strong personnel branch. There she fell in love with human resources management and decided that this was her true vocation. Her next assignment was to create a a human resources function in one of the world’s largest volunteer organisations.

She has now headed the human resource function in three different organisations. Her longest appointment was as Vice-Principal (Human Resources) at the University of Melbourne. She and her colleagues developed the HR function at the University from a personnel function to a well regarded human resources division. In recent years, Liz has been Head of Administration at the University of Melbourne, where she was responsible for service delivery of IT, Finance, Research, Marketing, Property and Grounds, as well as overseeing a major restructure of administrative service delivery.

Liz is currently a Senior Fellow of the LH Martin Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Management and also a Senior Fellow in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, at the University of Melbourne. Liz currently advises universities in Australia and overseas on management and human resource management issues.

Dr Angela O’Brien is a Barrister-at-law, Victoria, Mediator, Arbitrator and independent consultant with specialist expertise in the areas of dispute resolution, education and the arts.

In 2009, she retired from the University of Melbourne, where she was an Associate Professor, Deputy Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Discipline Chair of Creative Arts in the School of Culture and Communication, Faculty of Arts. Prior to these roles, she was foundation Head of the School of Creative Arts (2001–2004), University of Melbourne and Dean of the School of Studies in Creative Arts, Victorian College of the Arts (1995–2000). She has also worked in the Vocational Education sector in Australia and England and has specialist expertise in curriculum development and review, educational management and dispute resolution in the tertiary sector.

An elected member of the Institute of Arbitrators & Mediators Australia (IAMA) National Council 2004–2010 and IAMA President in 2008–2009, Dr O’Brien was a member of the National Mediator Accreditation Committee, which implemented the National Accreditation Standards in Australia. She is currently a member of the IAMA Victorian Chapter Committee.

Dr O’Brien has been a member of the Prahran College Council, The University of Melbourne Council, the Victorian College of the Arts Council, and federal and state councillor for the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

Enquiries and more information

Please direct enquiries about this program to Anita Wong: +61 3 8344 0906.


Click on the 'Register' button or download and complete the registration form (pdf). 

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