UC Berkeley 'conflict lab' trains leaders to clash with grace

The University of California Berkeley's business school is launching a course to help students get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. Its creators call it the "conflict lab," The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 28. 

Francesca LaBaron, an executive coach and certified mediator, and Breona Jenkins, a senior leadership development associate at Pixar Animation Studios, will lead the course, according to the Journal. They developed the course after seeing colleagues and classmates struggle to manage workplace conflicts, such as handling poor performers and giving or receiving feedback. 

The class revolves around role-playing exercises. Ms. LaBaron and Ms. Jenkins reached out to the business school's alumni and people in their own LinkedIn networks to help students practice tough day-to-day conversations. Each person was equipped only with their own side of the role-play situation, so they had to react to the other person's responses on the fly, the Journal reported. 

Hannah Levinson, a UC Berkeley alumna and leadership professor at New York University's business school, was one of the role-play aides. "I so often both personally and professionally just see people shying away from feedback," Ms. Levinson told the Journal. "Patterns just continue and tension builds."

This course launched this fall, according to the Journal.

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