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Why having ‘Transformative Conversations’ is in demand

08 Sep 2022 | Kim Ansell and Barbara Bassa Kim Ansell and Barbara Bassa, facilitators of the Transformative Conversations Programme, reflect on the feedback from the 2021 Programme and explore why having transformative conversations is a priority in the current volatile HE context and how the Programme can help colleagues better understand their own role in conversations, as well as navigate the range of conversations that are playing out across higher education today.

Self-awareness, the need for emotional intelligence and empathy have always been vital in building relationships, developing teams, collaborating with colleagues and supporting or helping others. In recent years, the Covid pandemic and the move to a more virtual workspace has made the challenge of effective communication harder for a lot of people, as they try and convert challenging conversations into transformative ones; in particular, emotional and social clues can be missed whilst on screen. This is even more challenging in the light of us all trying to better understand how issues of diversity and bias can impact the way we communicate and collaborate in an inclusive way.

In the Transformative Conversations Programme, we explore many types of conversation, for example, conversations across difference; feedback conversations; conversations about equality, diversity and inclusion; performance conversations and conversations about wellbeing. Why do we aim to cover such a wide range of conversations? It is only through playing out the breadth of different types of conversation that many of us have day in and day out that we can develop the emotional intelligence and self-awareness to have the confidence to tackle them. 

Over a series of three half-day workshops, (along with reflection and asynchronous working between sessions), participants develop an understanding of context, self, and others and build the confidence to have various types of challenging conversations within their teams and institutions. One of the 2021 participants said: “The course has taken away my fear of these types of conversations”

We also received very positive feedback from participants which has encouraged us to develop and improve the programme. Last year, 85% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that participating in the programme would help them achieve better quality relationships. Over 85% said that the course achieved its aims and objectives, and was relevant to their personal and organisational leadership circumstances.  

During the 2021 programme our participants said that they were having better experiences when having conversations at work, using the skills we discussed and practised, for example, how to open the conversation well, deep listening, managing emotions when speaking with others about challenges and using compassion. Participants reflected that they were able to move beyond their own emotional reactions when challenged by us or other programme participants to take a more rational perspective. 

“This programme has transformed the way I think about and approach conversations with my team and I am already seeing the benefits in terms of better relationships.”

We know that acknowledging and understanding other people’s experiences can help foster more positive relationships. It is for this reason that in the programme we spend time practicing reflective and generative questioning and encouraging participants to think about their agency in transforming conversations. In the 2022 programme we are planning to build on successes of the programme and include additional content related to authenticity in conversations.

Creating a safe space for participants to share and be open about their conversations is really important so we don’t record this programme to facilitate the opportunity for participants to practice and use the group to share challenges and reflect deeply. Our previous participants found the opportunity to “get other people's perspectives on things” really worked well for them and established that the programme “was an excellent opportunity to reflect on communication issues at work, and learn new strategies”. We will continue incorporating real situations and scenarios in the programme and giving people plenty of time to plan and practice the transformative conversation they need to have.

We look forward to running the Transformative Conversations Programme again and we are thrilled by the engagement it gets and the positive change it creates for participants. We know that our 2022 iteration of the programme will be even more impactful and we are looking forward to seeing you there.


Barbara Bassa works for Advance HE as a Programme Director, Senior Leadership and Organisational Development Adviser and Executive Coach and heads a number of national and bespoke leadership programmes for the Higher Education Sector, including Aurora, Senior Women’s Leadership Development and Transforming Leadership Programme.

Kim Ansell works for Advance HE as a Programme Director for the Transformative Conversations Programme and the Governance Professionals in HE Programme. She undertakes consultancy across leadership and governance, including culture reviews and she leads on a range of Advance HE member benefit themes including ‘Transforming Organisations from Student to Board’ and ‘Inclusive Institutions enabling and supporting culture change’.

Transformative Conversations Programme: 12 October 2022

In uncertain times, sensitive and potentially challenging conversations can become increasingly daunting. For this, the Advance HE Transformative Conversations Programme supports participants in developing an understanding of context, self, and others, and builds confidence to handle challenging conversations within their teams and higher education institution. Find out more.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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