How to handle difficult participants

All trainers have to manage difficult participants at one time or another. Whether the difficult participant is a talker or know-it-all, a fighter or arguer, a quiet or withdrawn person, a complainer, an unconsciously incompetent person, a distracter, or a rambler, the trainer needs to know what to do and what not to do when handling the behavior, and how to avoid taking the behavior personally. This article will discuss how to handle each of these seven difficult and disruptive behaviors in turn.

1. The Talker

The Talker or Know-It-All has opinions on every subject and states them in a very authoritative manner. Other participants and the trainer find it hard to disagree with or to give help to this person.

What a Trainer Can Do:

In front of the group:

• Thank the person and move on to the next subject.

• Ask others to comment on his remarks.

• Thank the person for his participation and indicate it is time to hear from others.

• Tactfully ask the person to give someone else a chance.

• Use humor to invite others to speak up.

• Deliberately turn to others and ask for their opinions.

• Cut across the person’s flow of talk with a summarizing statement.

• Avoid looking at the person.

• Pretend you don’t hear the person and call on someone else.

• Acknowledge the person’s expertise or experience and ask permission to call on them for specific examples.

• Set rules: only the person who has the Koosh can speak, or there is a 2 minute limit per person, etc.

In private:

• Ask the person to serve as a mentor to others in the session, only offering answers when requested.

• Give the person an assignment to facilitate a small group discussion, with clear instructions intended to maximize listening and minimize talking.

• Request that the person prepares a portion of the content or offer an example to support the content at a specified time in the session.

• Provide constructive feedback about the impact of the behavior on the session, the participants, and/or the trainer.

• Coach the person to select more constructive behavior.

What a Trainer Should NOT Do:

• Compete with the person.

• Insult the person.

• Stifle the person’s enthusiasm.

• Get defensive.

• Express anger.

• Let the person control the discussion.

Read the full article here.

Article written by Laurel and Associates, Ltd. 2010


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