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Awkward Delegates


This delegate is a team leader & has refused to go on courses before. I advised the manager that the delegates are expected to practise upon & coach each other.

Any ideas upon 'handling' this person as it appears they are in most need of the course!.


Sophie Edmond

9 Responses

  1. Give them a choice
    No-one should be forced to do something on a training course that they are uncomfortable with. Not wanting to do role plays isn’t indicative of poor management ability. Why not ask for volunteers to do the role play and ask the others to observe, feedback and summarise key learning points?

  2. What is role play
    I wonder whether the delegate has a particular view of what role play is or is not? Have they had an experience of poorly handled or poorly developed role play? Do they feel the company or their colleagues will ridicule them if they are less than ‘perfect’? (This belief may have come with them from a previous role).

    I too used to have great difficulty as a delegate with ‘role play’ exercises, which werre largely seen as irrelevant to the job and largely designed to induce mild humiliation or unsupported vulnerability in the delegates.

    You will probably need to lead this candidate into a state where they see role play as a helpful tool in developing learning – and that comes down to the way in which you build a supportive environment, the way in which you manage the expectations and behaviours of the other delegates, and the way in which the company itself views admissions of vulnerability.

    This will require a lot of planning to make sure each activity is relevant, is properly introduced, contextualised and debriefed. And it may only be on the last day of a several day training course, or on a subsequent course, that you gain the full involvement of this delegate. But it can be done.

    If you need some help in this I can put you in touch with some people I have been trained by before who may be able to give you some more detailed advice.

    Kind regards, and best wishes

  3. Compromise and explore

    I’d recommend you clarify and build an understanding of the issue. You mention 1. The TL has refused to go on courses before 2. Refuses Role Plays

    The two generally go together so there is a contradiction there. Is it due to fear? Has the TL nothing to learn? Arrogance? Has the TL attended bad courses previously? Does the TL not perceive the value?

    I’m with the first contribution on this; there are many ways to facilitate learning outside of a classroom experience and using individualist learning methods also. To focus only on one delivery method and one exercise might be doing your delegate a disservice. There are other ways that may achieve an even better end result if you explore them.

  4. Awkward delegates
    Hi Sophie,

    I have been warned on many occasions that there were going to be awkward delegates on workshops I was about to run. They rarely turn out to be as difficult as they have been described.

    You have no doubt run many sucessful courses in the past. How would you have prepared the workshop if you had not been warned about this delegate?

    All of the advise you have been given is good sound advice but I would suggest that you prepare well, as always. Have a strategy to deal with the problem if it arises. Then forget the awkward delegate and run the workshop as you would normally. Don’t tailor the course to suit one delegate. Don’t expect problems, but be prepared so that you can deal with them if they occur.

    Good luck. I hope it goes well.

    On role plays…
    I did some research into delegates views of role play on training courses a few years ago.

    29% reported hating role play
    26% said they didn’t like them
    29% said they were ok
    16% reported that they enjoyed them

    Role plays don’t suit everyone and I would suggest that it’s mainly down to difference in learning styles. I suspect that they are often used because they are a preferred training method sooner than a preferred learning method.

  5. To role play or not to role play – that is the question?
    Wayne Mullen hits the nail on the head, role plays aren’t for everyone and they don’t suit all situations. Asking for volunteers is a good idea, you could also employ coaching on a one to one basis with this person, it might be more effective than any class based approach with this person.

    The other thing I’d be interested in knowing is how do you/they know he’s ‘in most need of the course’ and if this is correct has the candidate been given good quality feedback so he/she is aware of their lack of competence in this area and might attempt to rectify the situation themselves? If not, why not?

    These are questions you might ask of the individuals line manager.

  6. ‘Team Building’
    I agree with Gary and Wayne..forced participation in activities that people are uncomfortable with does more harm than good.

    The same idea is applicable to ‘Team Building’. Everyone knows that an hour in the pub is worth far more to real team building than a days silly antics building bridges with toilet rolls and the like.

    Team building is strongest when it comes naturally not when forced by so called ‘facilitators’.

    To get a good view of this subject have a read of

  7. Name this phobia please …
    Most of us have seen delegates put up resistance to taking part in role plays. In some cases, it seems quite close to a real phobia. As your delegate has been honest enough to flag their fear, please accept what they say and don’t push it!

    Instead, why not suggest an alternative ‘special’ task for them alone, agree it up front so that they have a plausible reason to avoid their phobia and opt out of the exercise(s). Could they act as an observer for you, or help to administer the role play exercise in some way – maybe as time-keeper, or handing out materials. Perhaps they could give feed-back to other delegates … or give feed-back to the trainer on the usefulness of the exercise to various participants.

    Even though they are unable to learn from taking part, they may well be able to learn by abstracting from what happens.

    Make the opt-out as subtle as is appropriate, and if possible, stress that everything taking place on the course will remain confidential.

  8. Does it have to be a formal ‘training course’?
    Assuming that the manager has identified and agreed the development need with the team leader, it might prove more useful to ask the person how he/she wishes to fill the gap and therefore get them to own their development solution which may or may not turn out to a formal ‘training course’.

  9. role playing
    It depends on what you are trying to do with the role play, and how it fits into the overall learning intervention design. I once used actors to do role plays and used the ‘pause button’ approach where I asked the senior managers attending the event ‘what should happen next’. Then the actor role-played their joint considered solutions. It worked, they learnt, no one was exposed by the process, and on the follow up, they all volunteered to role play against the actors as they could see the benefits. Feel free to call if you want more ideas/ guidance. Kind regards, Wayne


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