Handling Complaining Employees


Often times when I am delivering soft skills training to employees working at some large organization I find some of them strongly complaining about their work and the difficulties they are facing there. They complain about the workload, the lack of sufficient resources, the bad conduct of customers, their managers and even their own colleagues. Sometimes there is only one or two such complaining employees during training and sometimes there are many. When attempting to develop the skills of employees during the training, the complaining ones start to arise complaining about the difficult conditions they are facing at work.


If the trainer gives way to such complaining employees they might turn the whole atmosphere of the training program into a bitter and negative one hindering any positive impact from the training. They would eat up and consume a lot of time from the training program and drain their own energy, the energy of their colleges and perhaps even the energy of the trainer himself. Therefore, the corporate training should prevent by all means such negative behavior from those participants to take over the training program and reduce it into nothing but a large avenue for venting out their frustration about difficulties they are facing at work.

There are several methods by which the corporate trainer can control and limit such negative and harmful behavior. Here is a list of some of those methods.


One way to keep employee complaints in check is to allow participants at the beginning of the training to release the complaints they may have in an organized and controlled manner. This can be done using the think and listen technique. Participants are asked to pair up and express problems or difficulties they are facing at work that are making their work harder or preventing them from providing top performance. Then through a round of go round, the most pressing problems can be gathered from participants and written on the flip chart.

Giving all participants a chance to express their problems to their colleagues then to everyone in the training room and then documenting those problems in written form takes out a lot of steam from the complaining employees and allows them to relax during the rest of the training program. An alternative method for collecting employee problems is through the clustering technique.


In addition to allowing participants to express problems they are facing at work during the beginning of the training program, the trainer may also start by talking about the circle of influence and explain how successful people find solutions within their reach and carry them out while unsuccessful people just keep complaining and blame all their problems on other people or on external factors. Explaining this concept thoroughly by the aid of charting diagrams on the flip chart and giving examples through storytelling results in a total halt of complaints from employees attending the training.

Harsh Conditions

The trainer may also mention that it is the competent person who is able to perform well in difficult conditions and that if conditions were to be ideal then any employee with average skills would be able to perform well. Therefore, difficult conditions are actually a means by which highly competent employees can be distinguished.

Ground Rules

A further method by which a corporate trainer can stem the rush of employee complaints from the start of a training program is to include a slide at the beginning of the PowerPoint presentation in which he writes “We are not here today to complain about our work problems!” This can be considered as part of the ground rules and helps eliminate any such negative talk from participants during the training.


A trainer may also explain that we all as humans seek to gain the respect of and appreciation from others. The competent aim for acquiring that through their distinguished and exceptional performance while the incompetent attempt to gain it through complaining about their difficult conditions.


A competent corporate trainer is able to keep employee complaints about their work under control during the training by completely eliminating such complaints or by allowing participants to vent out such complaints in a controlled manner. This helps in maintaining a healthy positive atmosphere throughout the training program.

How else can you handle complaints from employees about their work during a training session?


Listening Skills of the Trainer

Listening Skills of Trainees and Trainer

In many soft skills training programs, such as communication skills training, the trainer works on developing the listening skills of trainees through various training activities one of which is the think and listen technique. It is even more essential that a trainer himself have exceptional communication skills on top of which are superior listening skills in order to perform well during any training program he is delivering.

Great listening skills are not a luxury but they are skills that any competent trainer cannot afford to do without. A competent trainer would make use of his exceptional listening skills in many occasions.

Buffering Multiple Trainee Questions

When a trainee asks a question then a second trainee asks another question and then a third asks yet another two or more questions a trainer with good listening skills would be able to listen to all those questions first and then start answering them in one go. This buffering of several questions in a row in the mind of the trainer allows him to link the answers of related questions with one another and provide the big picture in one continuous answer.

Sure providing such a combined answer for multiple trainee questions needs superior listening skills from the trainer. Using such question buffering technique also displays to participants the greatness of the trainer and the high professional level he has reached making them put even more trust in him and show even greater respect for him.

Absorbing the Agitated Trainee

Another case where superior listening skills would prove handy to the trainer is when one of the trainees attempts to provide a long passionate comment expressing his own opinion with vigor aiming at refuting something the trainer or another participant has been saying. If the trainer in such a case attempts to cut such participant short prematurely the trainee might become highly dissatisfied, may even hold a grudge, carry strong negative emotions and demonstrate a negative attitude throughout the rest of the training.

If, however, the trainer allowed such trainee to speak his heart out, while carefully listening to him and mentally analyzing what he is saying, the trainer would be able to let the steam out from such participant. This containment of the agitated trainee by the trainer can even result in highly positive emotions building up in the heart of that participant, towards the trainer and the training as a whole, which may show up by the end of the training program.

After such trainee has completed his long and passionate comment, the trainer can then start giving his comment on it in a calms and to-the-point manner. This would never have been possible had the trainer lacked superior listening skills.


Listening skills are one of the most important communication skills that a trainer must master way before attempting to improve them in his or her trainees.

What other training situations can you think of in which a trainer would benefit from having strong listening skills?

Setting Ground Rules During Training

In order to make the training session proceed smoothly it is essential that the trainer set a number of ground rules and communicate them clearly to all participants. Ground rules can be set after the trainer has introduced himself and mentioned the training style. Alternatively, it could be delayed till after the first icebreaker.

Preset Ground Rules

There are several methods for setting ground rules. The simplest method is to include a slide in the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of a training session listing a set of ground rules and to point to them as you proceed to that slide.

Sample of Ground Rules

Ground rules may vary from just requiring participants to switch off their cell phones or make them silent during the training session to a more elaborate set of ground rules including no smoking during the training session or inside the training room, asking questions only at the end of the training session and so on.

Collaborative Ground Rules

An alternative way for setting ground rules, other than listing them on a slide, is to have participants themselves suggest ground rules and write them down on a flip chart sheet. The trainer can then use voting to accept or reject any of those ground rules. The trainer may even go a step further by removing a suggested ground rule himself in order make a training session more relaxed.

he flip chart sheet can be hung on the wall at the side and in front of all participants containing the final set of ground rules clearly written in large type to act as a reminder for participants throughout the training program. The trainer can also easily refer back to it in case of any participant breaking any of the agreed upon ground rules. Icons can be drawn next to the ground rule statements for even better communication.

Allowing participants to participate in setting up the ground rules makes them more willing to abide by them.


Setting up ground rules from the start of the first training session in a training program can save the trainer a lot of effort and help make the training sessions run smoothly through such short or long set of ground rules be it preset by the trainer or decided on collaboratively by participants attending the training.

Do you think there are cases when it is not necessary to set ground rules? What are such cases?

Handling Opinionated Participants

Opinionated Participants

Some participants during training may have a heightened need for recognition. They may seek such recognition through various means. Sometimes they try to argue or forcefully impose their own opinions or what they think is correct. The trainer should be aware of such type of behavior and deal with it wisely in order to preserve a pleasant atmosphere in the training room and not fall into the trap of draining out the trainer’s mental and emotional energy.


Rather than arguing with a trainee who is trying to forcefully impose his own opinion and trying to impose it on everyone in the training room, the trainer should try to absorb such vigorous energy from such participant and even provide him with the recognition and assurance he needs since it is the original source behind his forceful behavior.


One way a trainer can achieve this is by acknowledging what such participant has just been saying and thus providing him with the recognition he needs. The trainer can do so by:

  1. Simply repeating what the participant has been saying and even thanking him for his ‘great’ contribution. The trainer can start this by saying: “Your colleague’s opinion is …”.
  2. The trainer may also paraphrase the participant’s words thus giving the participant even extra assurance that the trainer has fully comprehended and digested what the participant has been saying.
  3. The trainer may even go a step further and draw a simple diagram on the whiteboard or the flip chart representing the opinion of such participant.
  4. The trainer may even just write down what that participant had been saying or a one sentence summary of it on the whiteboard or flip chart.

This simple process of writing down what the participant has said in front of everyone else would provide him with an enormous feeling of satisfaction and all the recognition he had been seeking. This might lead to him not attempting to force his opinion again during the whole training session or even during the rest of the training course.

By simply acknowledging the opinions of participants who have a heightened need for recognition a trainer can manage to maintain a serine positive atmosphere in the training room and make even the most opinionated participants satisfied.

Have you witnessed an opinionated participant steaming in his opinion during a training session before? How did the trainer deal with the situation? To how extend was the trainer’s approach successful in handling the opinionated participant?

Overcoming Trainer Fear

One of the major obstacles facing new trainers is their fear of facing an audience. They are afraid that some unexpected situation might arise during the training which they might not be able to face. They fear that some difficult participant might misbehave and they won’t be able to deal with such a situation. They fear to face a large audience. They fear of losing control of the class.

All such fears of starting trainers are legit. A further fear of starting trainers is the fear of making mistakes during training.

Making Mistakes

First of all, new trainers must know that it is totally OK for a trainer to make mistakes during training even for experienced trainers. Attempting to deliver training that is absolutely free of any mistakes whatsoever is not realistically possible and actually puts too much strain on the trainer making it difficult or even impossible for him to deliver training effectively.

Difficult Situations

Secondly, novice trainers should be aware of common difficulties that might face a trainer during a training session and learn how to deal with each, such as dealing with difficult participants, handling difficult questions and knowing what to do when the video projector is not working or the flip chart is missing.

Armed with such knowledge and the knowledge that it is OK for the trainer to make some mistakes during training, a trainer can enter the training room with lots of confidence.

Gradual Practice

As for the part related to fear of facing an audience, this can be overcome through repeated practice first by speaking in front of friends and family members then in front of larger and larger groups. This activity done repeatedly and gradually helps greatly increase trainer confidence.


An additional method to build trainer confidence is through visualization. A trainer can start imagining himself delivering the training session and answering trainee questions one day before the actual delivery of the training. This visualization technique is very powerful and helps boost trainer confidence. The beauty of this method is that it can be done at any time and in any place without the need to get an actual audience. It is also considered the safest environment to practice in.

Through repeated practice and visualization combined with the knowledge of dealing with difficult situations and the flexibility to accept making mistakes, a new trainer can start climbing up the ladder of ever growing confidence.

What other methods can be used to overcome shyness and fear of facing a live audience?

Handling Negative Trainee Self Labeling

It is important to maintain a positive atmosphere throughout the training sessions and prevent trainees from falling into negative self labeling.

Individual Negative Self Labeling

For instance let’s say you ask a participant to carry out a specific activity and this participant thinks that it is too difficult for him and that he will not be able to do it. The moment this participant voices out his negative belief about himself and his abilities, or lack thereof, is the moment when he actually disables himself from carrying out the activity they trainer has asked him to carry out. The participant might say something like: “I cannot do it,” “I will not be able to do it,” “it is impossible for me to do it,” or “no way I will be able to do it.”

The trainer in such a case can remedy this negative form of self labeling by quickly asking the participant to say: “I can do it.” The trainer should say to the participant: “Say: ‘I can do it’.” The trainer should say such words with energy, vitality and strong enthusiasm showing belief in them. If the trainee is not convinced and does not want to repeat the positive words after the trainer the trainer should ask him again to do so and push him to say the positive words. If the trainee repeats the words but without vigor the trainer should repeat them again with strong enthusiasm and ask the trainee to do the same.

Negative Group Labeling

Even more dangerous than negative self labeling is negative group labeling. This is when a participant negatively labels a whole group of participants by saying: “we can’t do it” or “it is impossible for us.” This case should be dealt with by the trainer in a similar fashion to the case of negative self labeling by also instructing the trainee to repeat after him positive words with vigor.

One way to protect against negative group labeling before it even happens is to inform participants that all participants in previous groups you have trained were able to successfully carry out the activity you are asking them to do. This piece of information not only motivates them but breaks any negative beliefs they might have about the possibility of carrying out such an activity.

It is the duty of the trainer to insure a positive atmosphere throughout the training sessions by preventing negative self and group labeling and even protecting against it whenever possible.

Have you ever witnessed someone or yourself performing negative self labeling and not being able to perform right after that? Tell us about it.