Exclusive: Howard Webb reveals how to resolve conflict and handle difficult personalities

Former top flight referee Howard Webb spoke exclusively to HRD Connect about how he handled the most volatile situations and players on the pitch.

He believes these skills can be applied to the business world and help to manage situations in the workforce.

“As a football referee you’ve only got a limited armoury you can use to deal with conflict and to resolve issues: a red and yellow card and whistle,” he told HRD Connect.

“The biggest tool you’ve got is your personality and cognitive ability to recognise those small changes in people’s reactions or demeanour or behaviour.

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“I don’t think I got better as a decision maker as a football referee, I just think I got better at reading people and anticipating the way that somebody was going to react. I think that is consistent off the football field as well, just recognising how an employee might be reacting to a situation which might be out of character.

“It might signify something’s not right, it might signify a conflict between employees that you need to act on quickly, because if you allow things to go on too long then ultimately you can’t use your personality anymore, you’ve got to use the yellow or red card,” he added.

Prevent conflict escalation

Webb noted that using yellow and red cards was often the sign of a situation that had escalated too far.

“That’s not always the sign of a successful manager; the best referees are the ones who can anticipate and step in before something happened,” he continued.

“It’s the same for a manger or even a parent – just recognising the way that somebody’s reacting, identifying what’s likely to happen next and then taking action, not being passive, having the courage to step in and do something.”



Speaking during his keynote session at the HR Directors Business Summit, Webb explained that some players needed to be nursed and cajoled through the game.

“That’s like Joey Barton, he needs to be cajoled through the game.

“Someone like Mario Balotelli, you’ve got to ignore him really because you know you’re not going to have the last word. So you’re better off keeping your distance, you can’t argue – but its knowing how to react to people that’s really key,” he said.

Watch the exclusive HRD Connect video interview with Howard Webb


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