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Dealing with difficult participants


I am a full time trainer, training volunteers for a charity. Recently I have been faced with a number of 'difficult' participants, who I have found challenging to handle. I am looking for a course ( or book) that will give me some ideas on how to handle these situations. The common theme with these participants is that they have been quite aggressive (e.g talking all the time, disrespecting other people, not agreeing to stay till the closing time of the course, not wanting to do role plays or fill in feedback forms) I find that my tolerance for this kind of behaviour is becoming strained and I am sure that my irritation shows. I know that I need to find a way in myself to deal with this, as these types definitely 'press my buttons'! Any ideas would be gratefull received
rachael cross

9 Responses

  1. article on difficult people
    Hi Rachael,
    You may already be doing this, but…what works for me is making sure every time I run a class that I spend a few minutes discussing what kind of class we want to have, what is helpful and what is harmful behaviour. It’s also important to allow time for participants to connect with each other through icebreakers etc. I did a presentation a few years ago on difficult people and can send you a copy of it if you like.

    All the best,
    Lois Raats, M.Ed.
    [email protected]

  2. Dealing with difficult participants – reference book
    Hi Rachael . . .
    I have a book entitled ‘Dealing with Difficult Participants’ by Bob Pike and Dave Arch. The book is very simplistic but gives you a superb insight to the types of difficult situations and some of the strategies and techniques for resolving them. The book is available from Creative Training Techniques Press or you can order from
    Hope this helps . . .

  3. Best book on training
    These two books changed everything I do in the learning environment and it is rare to hit an issue now.

    Brain based learning by Eric Jensen &
    51 tools to transform your training by Kimberley Hare & Larry Reynolds

  4. Book by Peter Honey
    I have read a book by Peter Honey called Dealing with Difficult People (I think!) It outlines approaches for a range of difficult people following a standard set of 4 options. For example, you could choose to ignore the behaviour, to change your perception… As a model I have found it helpful when running supervisor development sessions- it is at least a starting point.
    Sometimes ‘difficult participants’ can be quite helpful because they are giving feedback (not in a helpful way!) but on reflection there might be something you can change which will enhance the learning for all the group.
    Good luck with the groups in the new year!

  5. Make compromises to avoid further disruption.
    Hi Rachael,
    I don’t know of any books I’m afraid, but from personal experience I find it best to acknowledge the points a difficult person is raising – they are, after all, giving feedback which others may agree with.

    I also do my best to come to a compromise over a disagreement with the intention of avoiding an argument at all costs. Even if I win them over, such a battle may lose the interest or respect of the rest of the attendees.

    Another option is to ask other attendees how they feel about the issue in question. If the difficult person is aware they are in the minority, they may be less awkward.

    Finally, the best remedy is a colleague who understands your position and who is happy to hear your moans over a nice cup of tea!

    Hope this helps,

  6. reason for attending the session
    We have had sessions with difficult participants and we found out either with pre-course questionnaires or questions at the beginning of the session – why they are attending the session ie is it a)something that they have requested or b)something that their mgr has told them to come on. I think acknowledging their responses or whatever is good but I would have a quiet word with them in the first coffee break and see if they feel that they really want to attend the rest of the session ie if they do not feel it is of benefit and it is not ‘compulsory’ then they can leave by mutual agreement.
    Other option depending on what the difficult behaviour is – getting another attendee to work with them on practical exercises – it may produce a change.

  7. Dealing with difficult people
    Hello Rachael

    When difficult people disrupt a class it has a negative effect on the other learners. I try to address this as part of the open session and when this has failed, I ask the delegate to take it off line and talk to them during the coffee break to see if we can resolve the problem. This seems to work usually. One book I’ve found very useful is “Dealing with People you can’t Stand” by Dr Rick Brinkman and Dr Rick Kirschner. It looks at lots of different types of people and how to develop your own strategy for dealing with them. Good luck!

    Desiree Cox
    Praeceptor Consulting

  8. Disruptive behaviour

    There are 2 excellent resources available on the CIPD website:

    These are entitled: Overcoming training room crises: people problems.

    I also bear in mind the ABC approach.
    A is for Attention – recapture by standing up/ speaking more loudly/ introducing an attention grabbing visual

    B is for Body Language – use more eye contact with those who are losing concentration, sit or stand closer to the gossips or those involved in side conversations

    C is for Contract – draw up a group contract of acceptable behaviour at the start and refer back to this when needed. Also, have a ” car park” in place – a flip chart where you can jot up issues that cannot be addressed in session and are causing digresson

    It is also helpful to have plently of ways of changing groups around so you avoid personality clash or having too many loud/disruptive people in one group.

    It can be helpful to use the concept of choices and consequences. Allow the group to choose what they want to do but explain the consequences, ie you can choose to have a longer break but this means a later finish etc.

    All the best
    Barbara Leslie

  9. Negotiation Technique
    I use a technique which I picked up from Police Negotiation teams. Apparently they look for something which they and the difficult person agree about, however small this is. This then becomes the basis on which they build the conversation. So in a training session I may respond with “John, you and I both agree that we’re trying to arrive at an approach that would motivate the team?” Getting them to agree lessens the confrontational situation and moves towards a joint approach. I find it also works because some difficult people expect a directly contradictory stance by the trainer, so this wrongfoots them. I also used it as a manager wen negotiating a new – more positive – relationship with a member of staff.

    It doesn’t work every time (what does?) but it’s been a useful tool in the training kitbag!



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