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James Quinn

GRASP. Learning & Development

Learning & OD Consultant

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Confidentiality in the Training Room – Where is the Line?


Hi all

A quick question for you.

How far does confidentiality go in the Training Room?

We want attendees to feel they have a safe environment to speak but where do we draw the line in taking some issues back to team managers?

I recently been asked by a union to let delegates know at the beginning of any training session that some issues (mainly poor behaviour/disrupting of the session) may be reported back to management.

I worry that this may stop people from being open yet management do ask me for feedback on any issues at the end of any programme.

What are your thoughts?


6 Responses

  1. A thought-provoking question

    Hi James, I'm all for keeping it real in the classroom but it may be a fine line.  I would say that I retain the right to ask people to leave the room if I believe that they are being too disruptive.  I would, of course, have a quiet word with them before that point and give them a chance to behave in a more suitable manner, calmly pointing out where I see the problem to lie. I also believe that if you say that you will then you must carry it through. The individual then has to go back and explain why they have been sent back.

    I would only feel compelled to feed this back to others if there was persistent swearing, using disrespecful language about others either in the room or elsewhere, using discriminatory language or aggression.

    I believe in people being truthful and having their say as long as there is a point that relates to the subject matter in hand and that it isn't crossing the lines mentioned in the second paragraph.  I guess it boils down to respect for others.  I myslef have to faciltate this and ensure it doesn't turn into a group rant that distracts from the session itself.

    This sounds to me like there has been a specific incident and someone is using a broad brush approach to stopping it happening again.  Not always the best approach and not always effective.  I believe in personally dealing with the individuals who are disruptive as and when it happens rather than using a stick with everyone.

  2. I think the approach you

    I think the approach you adopt is similar to a manager in a limited respect. The primary trigger is behaviour; abusive, sexist, racist language or any wholly inappropriate actions shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. In my opinion attending a developmental event does not mean you are exempt from this. Failing to take action on these issues compromises the developmental function significantly more than simply turning a blind eye to it.

    Where I would be more relaxed is in relation to a person expressing an opinion about the company or a process or a manager which may not be positive when we are looking at relevant and related issues. In such circumstances I may need to explore real issues and problems and challenges and I can’t do that if people can’t talk about them.

    If the actions of the individual warrant feedback I adopt a three step approach:

    1. Speak to individual alone and give them behaviourally specific feedback and explain what the problem is. We discuss it and usually this leads to the person refraining or changing their approach.

    2. If the issue continues I direct them to stop, but in front of the group.

    3. If it still persists – they’re gone.

    If I also felt the action or behaviour warranted reference to their line manager I would inform the indivdual that I was going to take that action.

    As in many things with human beings I use this as a guide not an absolute set of rules. For example; If (I never have) had an individual on an event with Tourette's I would want to exercise understanding and acceptance and I would require everyone else to do the same.  Never let rules stand in the way of common sense!

  3. to tell or not to tell

    Interesting situation

    There is a difference between topics that arise during discussion – and those should never be shared, and participant behaviour.

    Behaviour of participants is fair game to feedback. they are very different things in my book.

    I am with Garry on this, and his step by step approach above.


    With all situations though, culture and context is important. If I were training blue collar workers on a dock, I might expect language to be more colourful than say a care home.

  4. Topics vs behaviour

    Mike nailed it for me:  I think there's a huge difference between what delegates talk about and how they talk about it.

    At the beginning of all of our courses, we ask delegates to subscribe to a Learning Alliance, which outlines what we expect in terms of their behaviour, along with the behaviour they can expect from the facilitator.  A specific clause in the alliance makes reference to confidentiality.  You could say that we play by the 'Chatham House rules'.

    This clause is designed to help learners to feel safe whilst they're in the learning environment.  (A word that you used in your original question, James).

    That said, if a learner chooses behaviour that negatively impacts their own experience, the experience of others or the facilitator's ability to move the course forward (think 'individual, team, task'), we'll use strategies to manage behaviours.

    Depending on how extreme the behaviour is, we'd have absolutely no compunction in providing feedback to their manager.

    I acknowledge that we're an external provider, so I wonder whether the lack of a political layer informs our perspective?

    Interesting discussion.  Thanks for asking the question.


  5. The issue is with the warning…

    … being an internal L & D person, I can relate to James' predicament.  He's being asked to provide a blanket warning that unless people behave they wil have their behaviour fed back.  It smacks of quite a punitive approach.  Does that in itself impact the experience of the attendees putting them on the back foot and making them feel like they can't  be honest and truthful for fear of everything they say being told to their manager.  It doesn't feel quite right.

    I agree with setting expectations of behaviour at the start but the approach suggested to James kind of smacks of taking a hammer to crack an egg.

    I think internal training/ L & D people should be empowered to manage the situation themselves without having to feed anything back other than extreme behaviour.

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James Quinn

Learning & OD Consultant

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