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?

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