You are Excused from Training

Trainers, please picture this... You are presenting in a new location to a new group. You are prepared for a one day workshop. Your materials are ready and you are "on". Things seem to be going well. You are building a nice rapport with the class and the pace of the training is right on schedule. About two hours into your day one participant starts to demonstrate disruptive behavior. This individual begins talking to the person beside him during the lecture. A few minutes later, during an activity this gentleman is doing everything in his power to take people's attention away from the subject at hand. As the calm cool trainer you are, you try to work with him to no avail, and his behavior is really starting to affect the others in the workshop. You've got about one hour to lunch, and you are now behind on your timeline?For the sake of the training, what do you do?

As a trainer have you ever experienced presenting to a group with one or more difficult participants? The behaviors and attitudes of one or two of your class members can easily throw off the learning of the entire group. In my early experience as a trainer, there were several times when I found I had to make difficult decisions about how to handle a challenging participant. I posed the question to my manager and mentor, "When it's obvious that a participant is not interested in the training, and determined to disrupt the entire class; do you ever just ask that person to leave?"

Before I give you the answer that she gave me, let me tell you a little about my thoughts on training, and give you some ideas for identifying and dealing with difficult participants.

Now, I am someone who is dedicated to developing and teaching others. I feel that it is one of my callings in life. Because of this belief the idea of not allowing someone to continue attending a class or a workshop is difficult for me to accept. My philosophy is that the company hired me to train the team members ? the team members are in the training session for the benefit of their job ? we are all in the situation for ultimately the same reason: to make the company stronger through development. So, why is it sometimes so difficult for people to accept the idea of being in training?

Here are some examples of difficult participants

The Prisoner ? This participant is unhappy to be in the classroom. They feel trapped in a training session that they do not see the need for. A Prisoner can be spotted in two ways. They may be disengaged; not making eye contact, not paying attention, not participating in discussion or activities

They may be confrontational; challenging information provided in order to discredit the training or the trainer.

The Sniper ? This participant uses rude comments, sarcasm, as well as verbal & nonverbal behaviors to interrupt the learning process for themselves and others. The sniper is targeting the instructor. Statements may include:

"She (the instructor) doesn't know what she is talking about" "I think that is stupid" "You don't have authority or creditability with me"

The Challenger ? This is a participant who challenges subjects on small details; they like to display their knowledge (which they perceive to be greater than the trainers).

A Challenger differs from a Sniper in the questioning. The Challenger will question or challenge the information. For example:

"Where did you get that fact?"

"I was told to do it this way?"

"I've tried that way and it doesn't work?"

The Lost ? This is a participant that is not grasping the concepts being presented. The Lost can be spotted in two ways.

They usually display nonverbal expressions of not comprehending. They may ask questions that show their lack of understanding.

Check out some suggestions I have collected from colleges to handle participant behavior like the prisoner, challenger & sniper.

WIIFM ? "What's in it for me?" Within the first five minutes create the idea that the training is relevant for the participants. Let the class know why they are in the session and what they will get out of the time they spend there.

Deal with challenging participants firmly, but nicely Ask yourself, do you want to win, or do you want the learner to learn?

If anger is expressed and learning is disrupted Ask the participant if they want to discuss the problem now or later. Let them have control. Don't discuss the anger in the classroom setting. Take the participant aside to have the discussion or send the class on break.

Listen without interrupting Listen carefully and then restate what they are feeling.

"If I understand you correctly?"

Don't make the learner wrong Trying to prove that the learner is incorrect is likely to escalate the problem.

"Let me explain what I think has happened so you can understand my thinking. I think we can work this out together."

Find something you can agree on Make it specific to the topic at hand (the reason for the training, the benefits for the company or the benefits for the individual).

Use Language to create engagement

Positive phrasing has the following qualities:

? Tells the learner what can be done
? Suggests alternatives and choices ? Sound helpful and encouraging rather than bureaucratic ? Stresses positive actions and positive consequences that can be anticipated

Some examples:

? One option open to you is? ? We can help you to (whatever) if you would? ? I might suggest? ? Let me explain the background?or the perspective?.

Negative phrasing has the following characteristics:

? Telling the learner what cannot be done ? Has a subtle tone of blame ? Includes words like: Can't, Won't, Shouldn't

Some examples that can be interpreted as sarcastic or patronizing:

? No doubt? ? You understand, of course ? We can not? ? You are overlooking the fact that? ? You claim that? ? I cannot see how you?.

Link the solution to the learners needs or frustrations You cannot make someone listen, but you can make it worthwhile for them to listen from their perspective.

Indicate that the learner is not the only one with the same fears or frustrations

Indicate that others are working on possible solutions

? Utilize a feedback process for their suggestions ? Ask them to be open to the concept in class ? Ask them to identify areas of strength or weakness ? Ask them to write up an analysis and suggestions for a better procedure ? Invite them to channel the information to the appropriate people

Handling the lost, working with the challenger

Clarify if the issue is skill or will. Ask them to indicate which part they don't understand. Offer to provide additional support during activities. Team a lost individual up with a challenger; make the challenger use their knowledge to help "the lost" grasp concepts.

I learned all of the things above from manager's, mentors, other trainers, and through my own experience. When I experienced a challenging participant (Prisoner) again, I followed the rules above. I spoke to the individual on a break, listened to their feelings and gave him the option to leave if he felt it warranted. In the end he understood why his behavior challenged the whole class. He chose to stay and found a way to make the session work for him.

My mentor helped me specifically with my original challenge from the beginning of this article.

"When it's obvious that a participant is not interested in the training, and determined to disrupt the entire class; do you ever just ask that person to leave?"

She explained as an instructor you should talk to the participant, respect them and explain your perspective to them in a way that does not turn you into the disciplinarian and them into a child. As adults in a business setting you can give them the option to step out of the training, but let them know they will be responsible for their decision. Responsible for the material missed and explaining the situation to their manager. The participant will let you know when they need to leave. As trainers you have tools to handle and management difficult participants. Give some of these a try and you will never have to say, "You are excused from training".

If you are interest in leadership theory and practices then you need to visit: Jenny Kerwin is a contributing writer and thinker for our organization. In addition, as a leader you may be interested in For more information on training visit

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