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A California university is teaching students how to fire people

Twitter employees film themselves as they count down to being fired

A US university has created a new program which seeks to teach students how to deal with difficult conversations in the workplace - including how to fire people.

The “Difficult Conversations: Conflict Lab" course introduced by the University of California, Berkeley in the Haas School of Business this autumn offers 32 MBA students the chance to hone their abilities.

This ranged from delivering bad news to navigating office politics, receiving bad reviews, and evening firing someone.

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One of the ways to understand these potential problems was for students to roleplay the uncomfortable scenarios from both sides, where many found themselves to be conflict-avoidant at the start of the program.

The course itself was developed by instructors Francesca LeBaron, an executive coach and mediator for startups and Breona (Bree) Jenkins, a senior leadership development associate at Pixar Animation Studios.

Both noticed how people in their lives - colleagues, ex-classmates etc - had a hard time with difficult conversations in the situations previously mentioned.

“If we apologize, and we’re not even sure of what we did or we are not genuinely sorry for what we did, it can be another form of conflict avoidance,” Jenkins said.

"We should ask ourselves if it’s just because we want to move past the discomfort."

While LeBaron noted how the sessions are all about "maintaining connection, even when we disagree with the person."

"What is your objective? Is it to make this person feel heard, to problem solve, or to share your own needs? And how effective were you at achieving that objective?"

Progress in the class is tracked through students giving feedback to each other, writing essays about their own conflict styles as well as looking at conflicts within media.

“It’s really important that the students find ways to continue to practice this work after the class is complete,” Jenkins said. “They should have a clear understanding of where they are in their conflict journey and what they want to do to continue to grow.”

Students have praised the course and say they have now developed the skills to feel confident in the workplace when faced with an issue.

“I wish we’d learned this earlier in life,” Mariam Al-Rayes, MBA 23 said. “The role-playing was so useful—like when alumni talked to us as our managers. It was realistic and we applied what we learned in class first-hand.”

LeBaron and Jenkins plan to run the course in Autumn 2023, to provide leaders with the conflict-dealing tools they need.

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