A key member of your staff has problems at home that are affecting her work. You try to resolve the issue but fail, relations break down and she accuses you of bullying. All hell breaks loose, and an internal investigation begins. Then a reporter from The THES , sensing a story, starts ringing.
The scenario is not that unusual, as senior managers taking part in a project to promote emotional intelligence will discover.
As an alternative to costly, often inappropriate management development courses, Maggie Steel of Middlesex University's staff development unit has come up with an approach to help university managers get problems in perspective. A mix of managers from within a consortium of nine universities from around the country will meet formally to share problems. A professional facilitator will ensure that the participants listen to each other.
"Realising that you are not alone, that your problems and insecurities are shared by others, is the first step," said Ms Steel, the project's coordinator.
The concern, she said, is that managers rarely get the chance to discuss their difficulties. They often avoid doing so for fear that they will be labelled incompetent.
Ms Steel said: "Senior managers are often under severe pressure, they might be handling redundancies, they may be under-recruiting students or maybe they just don't get on with their boss. But too often they will not admit they are struggling because they have to keep face."
She said the use of emotional intelligence is very powerful, "but participants must learn to listen carefully because a lot of the real issues are between the lines".
The managers tend to be sceptical at first. But as they gain confidence in the group, they open up, discuss more personal issues and discover that they are not alone - at that point, solutions emerge.
The aim, Ms Steel said, is to encourage participants to be at one with themselves. If they are not, she said, they can give the wrong signals to colleagues and cause a lot of damage.
The project is being backed by the Higher Education Staff Development Agency, which has just received a £180,000 funding package. Gus Pennington, head of Hesda, said: "The lack of management development opportunities in the sector is a concern, and we hope that this project will deliver an exciting new approach."