Diffusing Those Challenging Training Participants

As a facilitator, I like to think that I am not only likeable and engaging to my audiences, but that they find me credible with the content that I am delivering. When I first started as a trainer, I was thrown into the deep-end, with virtually no guidance or preparation—and that was long before the Internet and the world of YouTube. Let’s just say I was not prepared for some of the challenges that I was about to face from some of my less than cooperative participants! Over the years, I gained a lot of insights on some different kind of engagement issues you may face. Here are my tips on those for you.

I Don’t Want to Be Here

In the company where I began my journey as a trainer, there were several “mandatory” classes for individuals at all levels. The management team only cared about sign-in sheets for compliance rather than the relevance or comprehension of the learning material. So, as I would quickly learn, participants usually arrived with an attitude of indifference – often because they were simply told to attend with no explanation of why. I often heard them use the term “meeting” rather than training. My favorites were those that were coming off an overnight shift and then expected to pay attention and participate. Ha!

So I began reading individuals by their body language and facial expressions as they walked in to see how they might be feeling. I would quickly engage them and let them know why this training would be a good use of their time. I often dealt with one-on-one push back, like, “It’s my day off and I had to come in for this?” My favorite was the guy who sat in the back and read his newspaper. I was once accused by a fellow trainer that I would “charm to disarm.” Well – it usually worked!

Then, after speaking with these individuals as they came in, the pressure was on me! For each participant, the “why” they were here was important to get across, as well as delivering on the promise of an important “take-away” that would make it worth their while. Not always an easy task, but effective in changing the attitudes of those who just don’t want to participate!

Disruptive Attention Seekers

Some participants just feel the need to challenge the facilitator, whether to test their ability to stay in control or to attempt to take over the reins – a power struggle perhaps? These disruptions can happen in many forms, from refusal to participate or giving negative responses to engaging questions, to talking to other participants during the session. These interruptions can be childish, yet wield the disruptor a certain amount of power.

Getting other points of view from participants that are more positive can help diffuse their negativity and give credibility to the learning taking place. Many participants may come to your rescue and shut down someone who is disruptive, as they realize it is taking away from their own learning experience. These are your “allies.” It is easy to recognize them quickly in any training session. They are the ones engaging you with eye contact and a smile. Don’t be afraid to call on them to get their point of view to help turn things around. 

Wake Up!

The last one that I will mention is usually from participants that have good intentions. Perhaps they are not used to sitting for any length of time, just came off the overnight shift, or are simply not mentally ready to learn when they arrive. At some point, these audience members begin what I call the “head bob” where they are fighting to stay awake. If you don’t intervene, some give in and just fall asleep – and I’ve even had a snorer from time to time! Often, it is very innocent. This is most common after lunch or mid-afternoon, when everyone is ready for a siesta.

As a trainer, if we are not quick to address these individuals, we start to loose credibility with our audience. I usually begin by giving them more eye contact and moving as close to them as I can. Sometimes that might mean standing behind them; at other times, it may be appropriate to take an interactivity break in the session and do a warm-up or ice-breaker activity. I also make it a point to tell my groups from the start if they feel that they might be restless or about to doze off that they are welcome at any point to stand in the back of the room. At least they will be awake and hopefully still getting something out of their learning experience!

As I began writing this and recalling my years of experiences, I thought of so many situations. These are my highlights as the most common forms of disruption that I have faced, but I am sure you can think of many more examples! My most important message to you is that as a facilitator, you must stay in control of the group and not ignore these distractions, as that will undermine your credibility. I will leave you with this – when all else fails, politely ask them to leave and invite them to come back when they are better prepared to learn!

What other tips and tricks can you think of for dealing with disruptions in your training sessions?

If you’re looking for more information on how to become a more effective trainer, please visit my previous blogs for some great advice. If training isn’t your thing, but your staff desperately needs it, reach out to SGEi at any time! We’d love to discuss your training and learning needs.

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