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Jasmine Gartner

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Analysing an emotional reaction during a training session


When conflict arises during training sessions, your initial reaction might be to shut down the other person immediately - but taking time to analyse their reaction can provide a greater learning experience for both parties. 

A few years ago, I was hired by a company to help them through a TUPE transfer (Transfer of Undertakings - to protect employees' rights when the organisation or service they work for transfers to a new employer). I was working with the staff representatives who would help in the consultation about the process.

This was a day-long session – I had worked with some of the people before and some were new to me. The youngest person there was a man called Chris – he was probably in his mid-twenties, while everyone else I would say was in their late 30s or older.

At one point during the workshop we were doing, he began to get very heated and raised his voice at me, and started to gesticulate as well. In the instant, I read this as anger.

My initial feelings were first of helplessness, then anxiety and finally resentment – he was hijacking my workshop (that was my reaction in the moment, not the truth). I shut him down.

I immediately knew I had made a big mistake. Sometimes in my work I do have to get people to move on, so it’s not always a bad decision, but in this case it was. I could feel in my gut that there was something else going on.

Correcting the course

At the end of the module, I called a break. I went and sat down with Chris and apologised for my earlier behaviour. I asked him if he wanted to speak more about what he was saying earlier.

Chris told me about his relationship with the company. The company had recruited him when he was 18, they had trained him, given him security. They had sought him out and now, they were sending him away.

All of a sudden I think we both understood the story in a new way. It wasn’t the TUPE transfer that was upsetting him. It was that he felt that the company didn’t want him anymore.

I think that the outcome was that Chris was now able to look at the change process for what it was, even though he might feel emotional about it, he could separate that out.

The reason I can say this is because this is what Chris told me when I came back to do further training on a different change process (in the end, he hadn’t been TUPE’d out after all).

Chris now radiated confidence. He spoke quietly and slowly to the new staff reps about his experience and he helped me to contain their anxiety. He was absolutely brilliant. I was really proud of him.

Three tips for handling those emotions

Tune into your emotions

The first tip is that I ought to have looked to my own emotional response to help me understand what Chris was feeling. Remember, I felt helpless, anxious and resentful.

Now think about Chris was going through, and what he would most likely be feeling. I would bet that he felt helpless, anxious and resentful about the impending change.

Tune in to the emotional reaction you're having: what exactly is it you are feeling? Does it help you put yourself in the other person's shoes?

Listen before you speak

This follows on naturally from my first tip. Take a breath and don't react out loud. Concentrating on what you are feeling in the moment will allow you to do just that - but don't make my mistake and react to the other person emotionally, as you may be reading them wrong.

Whether or not you react in the moment, it's important to make sure the person knows that you are actually listening to them. Practice deep listening. Hold on, stay quiet, listen.

Follow up - carefully 

Either open it up to the group if it's a relevant conversation, or ask if you can pick it up at a break.

What do you do when you feel emotionally overwhelmed during a training session?

Interested in this topic? Read The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

11 Responses

  1. Hi Jasmine
    Hi Jasmine
    this is a really interesting story and i agree its always best to try to understand people’s motivations for their apparent hostility or interruptions in order to help them deal with it better and also in case others in the room feel similarly. I would just add that i had to look up TUPE – I feel strongly that our industry need to talk in the language of business not the language of HR in order to really be seen as part of the part of the business. When jargon excludes people, HR professionals exclude themselves.

    1. Hi Juliet,
      Hi Juliet,

      Lovely to hear you liked the piece!

      I’m actually not in HR (I work with organisational culture) – TUPE is a business term/process here in the UK, but I do know what you mean about jargon and how it can work to exclude.

  2. Thank you for these insights
    Thank you for these insights Jasmine: a reminder of how important it is for us to reflect on our own performance in the classroom as well as that of those we are training.

    1. Hi, yes, reflection is so
      Hi, yes, reflection is so important – and for those of us at the front of the room, a really valuable / exciting opportunity to learn something too.

  3. Really useful article thanks.
    Really useful article thanks. I will definitely use all 3 tips. Tip 3 is particularly useful and could be applied in any situation.

    1. Hi Helen,
      Hi Helen,

      I’m glad to hear this was useful.

      I’m just very curious about people -I love to hear their ideas and experiences, and I think a workshop is a perfect place to explore those ideas.

      I’d be happy to hear how these tips work for you!

  4. I had a similar experience
    I had a similar experience many years ago. Since then I have adopted a mantra which is that “there is no such thing as problem people, just people with problems” and I respond to them in this way. I hold out the possibility that their problem IS me and go into problem solving mode staying as detached and objective as possible. This seems to have a great effect in that this is not the response they are expecting and so usually open up as to what it is (I am doing/not doing) that is affecting them.

    1. I know what you mean: but I
      I know what you mean: but I don’t tend to think the problem is me, I think it’s neither of us – so then we’re just people talking about challenges!

      1. I don’t believe the problem
        I don’t believe the problem is me in most cases either, I hold out the prospect that the participant might have a problem with me for some reason I have not noticed.

  5. Hi Jasmine. I am a trainer
    Hi Jasmine. I am a trainer in my company so I work directly with the staff employed by us. Over the years, I’ve had various reactions to some of the sessions I’ve taught and experience has shown me, that it is usually the topics that are quite emotive that can raise things in people that even they may not know existed in themselves! I’ve had staff confront me during sessions, after sessions, and even breakdown in tears whilst looking at areas such as our own values etc. In these situations, I make sure that I take regular breaks, offer one to one support to those that appear affected and then move on to another topic if needed. I’ve been close to abandoning a session on one occasion, but then I’m not sure that this would always help either. I work in the care industry, and you never really know what a person’s own history is like until you begin to get them to discuss certain areas. It is hard to try and keep the flow of the group together, whilst also making sure that you are maintaining the well-being of individual staff (as not all of the other delegates appreciate people crying around them).
    Thank you for the tips…..they will definitely come in useful!

    1. Hi Claire,
      Hi Claire,
      I agree – it is amazing how emotions well up when we least expect them. I think there’s an unspoken rule that we should keep our emotions out of the workplace, and so when there’s an opportunity to share those feelings, they sometimes erupt. Sometimes I just back off a little and let the group kick in and take care of their fellow employee – when it works, it’s a lovely thing to see.

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Jasmine Gartner

Consultant and author

Read more from Jasmine Gartner

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