My Stories with Difficult Participants

Sensing and Preventing Trouble

As I entered the training room, and before starting the training session, I noticed that one of the participants who was seated third on my right side was speaking a bit heatedly with the colleagues sitting next to him. It seemed he was dissatisfied, perhaps about work, and I sensed he would be a troublemaker and could disrupt the training session when it starts.

Right before the training session started, and before even introducing myself or anything, I slowly stepped forward towards that slightly agitated participant who seemed like one waiting for an opportunity to pour out his anger and agitation in the form of negative words or actions. Once I reached him I stopped. I then looked to him with a smile and extended my hand towards him for a handshake while greeting him. He was taken by my unexpected behavior and suddenly smiled back and shook my hand while returning my greeting. He was surprised and flattered that I went to him in particular to greet and shake hands with him while skipping his other colleagues.

His state was instantly transformed.  He became calm and pleasant. He simply got all the attention he craved not only from me, the trainer, but also from his colleagues who witnessed the trainer shaking hands with him and greeting him exclusively even before the training started. That participant gave me no trouble at all throughout the training program. It was a simple preventative approach that helped keep the training session running smoothly and protected it from disruption from attention-seeking participants. That training program was for a group of employees of a corporate client.

I Asked Him to Leave the Room

I remember another story of another participant who was also calling for trouble from the time he entered the training room. It was during my early days in my training career. He came a bit late for the first training day. He missed the initial part where I had set the tone for the training and started to build a warm and informal relationship with participants. He acted in the peculiar way of a difficult student totally closing his ears to what the trainer is saying and pretending not to comprehend instructions given by the trainer. I kept using a flexible approach with him during the training days. It was a computer programming course I was delivering and participants were fresh university graduates.

One day despite my clear instructions not to do so, I found him indulging in playing a computer game at the back of the training room while the rest of his colleagues were focused on the training. I asked him quietly to leave the room. He was astonished as this contrasted sharply with my previous lenient behavior. He resisted at first, but then I calmly asked him if he had resigned from his job to attend this lengthy training program and he said yes. I told him that he is now neither working nor benefiting from the training so there is no reason for him to remain in class. He left the class embarrassed. I had kept my words to him private.

During the remaining days of the training program his behavior was transformed 180 degrees. He came on time, was not late after breaks and was well behaved throughout the training session. It is a rare thing that I would ask a participant to leave, but it might be necessary to take such an extreme measure if the situation calls for it.

Conclusion

A competent trainer must have a variety of methods to help him handle difficult participants preventing their negative behavior before it happens or dealing with it effectively if ever it takes place.

In what other ways can a trainer handle difficult participants?

Handling Complaining Employees

Complaining

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.

Drowning

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.

Release

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.

Proactivity

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.

Appreciation

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.

Conclusion

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?