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Bad and rude particpant behaviour


I recently did a training session where the 2 participants were told that they had to attend because of their behaviour. Right from the start they were disruptive, argumentative and would not participate in any activity. Both were ladies, recent graduates and worked for about year for the company. . I was given the run down by the manager so knew what to expect but their behaviour was appalling Not to say to much but it was working with seven year old with tantrums. Has anyone else experienced this and how did you manage having an effective training session.
Deborah Rensburg

14 Responses

  1. Not acceptable but maybe they had a point
    I’m not excusing their behaviour for one second, however it sounds like their manager has let everyone down in this scenario, especially you.

    You don’t say what the training session was (regulatory, behavioural, etc)but surely there should have been some attempt at engagement from the manager in question as to why they’re required to attend and what benefits they will get out of it.

    If as it seems that this was lacking, I would have tried to instill that engagement myself when covering the introductions / A&O’s and singled them out as to what they wanted to get from the day.

    If as time went on I was still faced with constant negativity, I would have made the decision whether to keep trying to gain their buy in or ultimately I would have sent them back to their business manager, where he/she could have dealt with them.

    Hopefully you don’t hold yourself responsible for their behaviour, as in my opinion this certainly isn’t the case.

  2. direct discussion
    While you haven’t gone into details, how interesting that instead of tackling their behavioural issues in house, they send them to a trainer.

    You mentioned that they behaved like seven year olds – I would say they were treated like school children by their organisation, being sent to the headmistress rather than having an adult conversation with their line manager.

    This isn’t directly helpful to you, I understand – but what a nightmare assignment to have!

  3. Try a little TA
    I really empathise with your situation, Deborah; it’s an unsettling experience which, fortunately, happens less often than one fears. I also empathise with the two women on your course who, it sounds, were sent to you for remedial training – not a dignified way for the organisation to treat either them or you. I’m not surprised at the students’ reactions, if one is treated as being naughty then why not behave so?! Of course, you wanted them to behave as grown-ups in order that they, and the rest of the participants, could learn the lessons you were engaged to teach.

    Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (TA) model provides a useful explanation of various behaviours and I find it to be a great tool for handling most situations. Whatever one’s feelings might be, thinking rationally, in an adult ego state, allows one to analyse what is going on and to make decisions about what to do next. It also allows one to question one’s own perceptions about situations, to understand and think from various viewpoints and to manage events. I use it whenever I find myself being wound-up by some cretin or other. Dear oh dear: if only the rest of the planet were as sane as I!

    So, try some TA. If you’d like to contact me for stuff about TA, please feel free to do so. I might be able to help with some notes, websites etc. All the best.

  4. Participant behaviour

    Hi Deborah,

    The first policy change I ever made as a trainer in a large company was to insist that all the participants had and shared learning objectives at the start of a programme.

    The first time this was tested involved a person attending a presentation skills workshop in Norwich and they were based in Sheffield.

    After asking each person to share their objectives three people did not have any die to being “sent on the course”.

    I gave them ten minutes to thinking of at least one objective they could work on during the day whilst I did a quick intro exercise with the rest of the group.

    Two of the three developed good objectives and continued.

    Once focused these two were good to work with.

    The third did not develop any objectives and made it clear he would not and so was sent back to Sheffield. I rang his manager straight away to let him know and they were very supportive as was my training manager.

    A new policy was established the next week asking for all delegates to have objectives agreed with their manager prior to attendance.

    Businesses and training functions cannot espouse return on investment and then accept people with no objectives so they should be ready to enforce this point.

    The other thing that works is to get people to think about applications they can use the skill for outside of work generating a stronger motivation to learn.

    All the best.

  5. a little formulaic approach
    In addition to the very useful and sound advice already given….

    A wise old man once said to me;
    There are three types of people at a training event (not including the trainer)
    -prisoners and

    -Holidaymakers are here for a day off work, they don’t want to be made to do anything other than enjoy a free lunch
    -Prisoners are here because they have been ordered, they will not do anything unless forced
    -Learners are here because they see that they can get some benefit out of the day.

    -to holiday makers I say, I am the “facilitator”; from the French “facile”, meaning “easy”, you are “delegates”, from the English “delegate”, meaning you do the work…either join in or you can go back to work now.
    -to the prisoners I say, “I don’t take prisoners”…either join in or you can escape now.
    -to the learners I say “Welcome”

    It sets the attendees a challenge, and in 15 years I’ve only once had a delegate say “OK, I’m going”, on that occasion the other delegates actually breathed a sigh of releif and said that they were glad she’d gone!


  6. Feedback Form
    Deborah – with one of the organisations I worked with I introduced an end of course feedback form, ‘Big Deal’ you’re probably thinking, except, this feedback form was from the trainer to the individual’s line manager. I talked through this feedback form with the delegates early on in the programme and explained that they would be asked to fill one in which was focussed on me and the programme, so it was a completely two way process. If you send me your email address I’ll happily send it out to you. My address is garry.platt(at)

    Knowing that their line manager would be informed of their behaviour often tempers stupidity or willful destructive actions.

    P.S. I do hope you let their line manager know of their actions immediately.

  7. I agree…
    It’s a long time since I had something this bad. On that occassion I suggested to the person concerned that she clearly had other things on her mind and invited her to deal with these before coming back on the programme, offering to give her a refund and also pay for her train ticket home.

    I had (as an internal trainer) rowdy behaviour during a residential programme, way beyond what is acceptable and frankly bordering on the illegal. I sent the 2 people concerned home the next day & informed their managers.

    My job as a trainer is to facilitate a great learning experience, not to deal with the inadequacies of other people’s abilities to manage themselves or others (unless that is the objective of the programme!)

    More recently I’ve been able to acquire skills and knowledge, and a different mindset, that enables me to see most disruptive people as potential learners with a couple of blocks in the way. Usually I can quickly reach agreement with them to ‘hang in there’ until I can spend 10 mins alone with them to remove or reduce these blocks enough that they can then fully participate. And often, within their disruptive behaviour there is useful ‘positive intent’ that all can benefit from.

    I think it helps to be clear about what you will accept – holiday makers, prisoners and learners – so contract up front. I think TA can be a huge help too in how you interact with them, and a reframe and looking for the positive intent can turn most situations around – it also makes you look fab!!



  8. management involvement
    Hi Deborah

    The joys of being a trainer!

    On one programme I ran, we used the whole evaluation process to get the line managers fully involved. The evaluation began with us sending out a ‘pack’ that showed the outline and objectives of the programme. There was then space for the delegate to mark their own objectives and, following a conversation with their line manager, the manager had to complete a section with their objectives for the delegate.

    There was space for the usual end of course feedback from the delegate, but the evaluation pack was then re-sent out to the manager for them to have a conversation about how the course had gone for the delegate, what they had learnt and what their action plan was. One of the questions to be answered by the line manager was what support they were going to give their member of staff. 4-6 weeks later it was sent out again for evaluation of any changes in behaviour/performance etc.

    A long-winded process but for the most part it worked and ensured that your nightmare situation happened very rarely. It also highlighted which line managers took the whole thing seriously. We were also fortunate that we had senior management backing for the whole process.



    ps. Rus – loved the holidaymaker/prisoner/learner. Will definitely use that one!

  9. Give them a chance, then get rid of them
    So they’ve been sent to detention for bad behaviour. Chances are it’s the manager who needs it more. I’m with Rus and others – have an Adult-Adult conversation with them about what they *could* get out of the day on their terms(and explicitly acknowledging this will be very different to what their manager wants). If they persist, agree with them that they complied with their manager’s wishes – they turned up – but that now it’s time to leave. It’s NOT detention. Your responsibility is to the majority.

  10. Prisoners of war
    In the training world, we can roughly divide up our delegates into three sets: volunteers, conscripts and prisoners of war.

    There is a scene in The Great Escape where the ringleader of the Allied PoWs explains to the camp commandant that it is his duty to make it as difficult as possible for the German authorities to keep them prisoner, by constantly attempting to escape.

    I would say this is a fair picture of your two ladies.

    I am always gobsmacked when managers insist on taking this approach. Not only did your two PoWs not learn anything, but they saw to it that no-one else did either!

    I have never seen any reason why the few should be allowed to hold the many to ransom.

    I have had only three such people in my classroom over the space of 20 years. Partly because I’m stroppy enough to make it plain that I am not prepared to waste resources on those who refuse to learn. If I hadn’t wanted to try teaching people who were there under duress, I would have become a secondary school teacher 😉 Fortunately, I have never had more than one present at a time – that must have been very trying!

    On all three occasions, I took the person to one side during a tea break and invited them to leave, promising to clear it with their manager. Two took me up on my offer, the third modified his attitude. Of the two who left, one was (ahem) “let go”, since it was due to complaints from customers about his level of service that the course had been laid on in the first place!

    As someone has already said, you do not run a detention. Good grief!

  11. Awful
    I’ve had a couple of people like this in my sessions and it’s awful.

    In my current post, it’s only been directors though, so it’s been rather difficult to report to their manager as they are the manager.

    There’s lots of good advice from other members here on what to do and some of which I’m going to make a note of for future reference.

  12. Inexcusable
    Wow, Helen, that sounds really rough! The fact that they are directors makes their behaviour even more inexcusable.

    I would recommend an assertive (not aggressive) course of action, here. I would make an appointment to see each of them, one-to-one and discuss the problems you’re having with them. I would remind them that, as directors, they are under no obligation to attend, and that their actions are undermining the value of the session for other attendees. If they have to undergo training for compliance reasons, offer to find another way for them to do so (e-learning, podcasts, etc.)

    Ask them if they have any suggestions to make as to how you might do things differently.

    If necessary, tell them this situation is diminishing the return on their investment. Remind them that they hired you because they believed you could do this job, and ask them to stop behaving in ways that prevent you from fulfilling the role you were hired to do.

    If none of this works, I would suggest that you need to find another job before your own confidence is undermined.

  13. Position power
    re Helen’s issue – I’d agree with Karen and ask them why they turned up ? What’s in it for them ? Eric Berne’s “Games people play” might help here.

    Trainers can underestimate their position power and challenging inappropriate behaviour in a respectful way can have the effect of reminding such people that they are actually making a fool of themselves. Reflecting on this in a 1:1 can even elicit a grudging apology ! Good luck Helen.


  14. Disruptive trainees & confidentiality
    Here’s a wonderful example of how this forum can share real experiences in a positive way.

    My only comment is a need to clear the confidentiality issue at the start and at the same time indicate that disruptive behaviour will always override that principle.

    It could be included as one of the ground rules, but with a light touch.

    Prevention being the best cure as it were.


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