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difficult participant



I have a question regarding how to deal with a difficult participant.

I work in a CS environment and have to organise weekly training sessions on new products, system, soft skills etc.

One CSR is always "too busy". When told by management to attend the training this CSR is so negative and complaining that it actually interrupts the training.

I would really appreciate some advice on how to deal with this CSR. Not only to make the life of the trainers easier (who all are new in this field) but also to make sure the rest of the team can enjoy the training and that they benefit from it.

Thank you.

Susan Baker
Susan Baker

10 Responses

  1. Need more info
    Hi Susan

    I’m dealing with similar situations and there is almost always more to this than meets the eye, 99% of which is not relevant or appropriate to be aired in the trainingroom.

    Could you give me a couple examples of what this person is saying or doing to be disruptive. It is often the case that this person can be ‘turned around’ but if not, you may need to consider going down the capability/disicplinary route, no matter how good a performer they may be – it only takes one rotten apple…!!!



  2. Stem at the source
    Arrange a meeting or chat, which ever suits with the individual,

    Let them know you’re concerned about them and are worried you’ve done something to upset them.

    Invaribly, the real issue will now come out for you to deal with. Now switch to coaching mode and work at a way you can both move forward on this e.g. “I know everything you’re telling me, training is a waste of time” Get them involved in the facilitation/design if possible. Ask their opinion on new material you have designed.

    People will refuse to let you fix them because they do not believe they are broken and They will be difficult with you in training sessions because it works for them.

    The dynamics change beyond recognition when you talk to them one on one about this.

    This technique saw me through two years of training in a call centre and it never failed once, I hope it’ll be as good for you. Best of Luck


  3. Sensitive but Assertive
    Attend a course and develop the skill of giving behavioural feedback; Get an experienced facilitator to run a session (with the person present) and let them show you how to give them behavioural feedback ‘in the moment’; Video the event (camera pointing at the person/group) and after the event either sit with their line manager to review their DR’s behaviour, and get them to give the person direct feedback – or you give them feedback using the tape as your evidence; Include ‘behaviour’ as a topic in your session, and use their behaviour as an example of poor behaviour ‘in the moment’ – which should be quite simple when talking about CS behaviours !; Get their line manager to attend the session and when the person starts to ‘go off on one’ (assuming they would if their line manager was present), split into pairs (irrelevant why), and get their line manager to give them direct feedback on their behaviour; At the start of a day agree a ‘team charter’ – ensuring you get on the list things like respecting others views, listening, no ‘Red Herrings’, etc and when they disrupt refer them to the Ground Rules, ignore them and carry on; ‘Car Park’ their issue and tell the person you will pass their issue onto thier manager immediately after teh event so they can address the specifics of teh issues they raise; Call a time out (coffee, tea or natural break) when their behaviour gets too much, give them specific examples of how their behaviour is stopping you from getting the message accross (or breaks a ground rule if you did that) and simply ask them to leave; Don’t invite them to training sessions, just send them notes on the new product etc with a cover saying something to the effect ‘we try and meet everyone’s learning style and as you have shown a clear preference to not attend face to face session please find attached notes on the new product’ – but this won’t fix their behavioural problem.

    Don’t however get into arguments with them in front of the group, don’t try to ridicule them or make them look stupid in front of others, and don’t shy away from being assertive, yet sensitive to their needs and the needs of the group.

    If all the trainers follow the same line the person soon gets the message – but really their manager needs to fix it.

  4. Arian Associates Ltd
    I agree with Martin below.

    Do you really want to keep trying with this person or is it time to call it a day and take steps to “let him go” ?

    I know you will have employment legislation to deal with, but there comes a time when it is more prudent to get rid of bad apples than let them carry on and allow them to set the rot in with the rest of the team.

  5. Proactive Use of Management

    Lots of advice below which works really well. One of the areas we cover in my organisation is getting a member of the Management Team to open the training session, setting their expectations and benefits that the session will bring. As long as the tutor and manager are singing off the same song sheet student engagement is not normally a problem. If it becomes so, simple referral to the opening Manager for a one sided conversation is enough to re-focus the individual concerned. A simple fix.

  6. The Root of the Problem
    I agree with many of the comments posted here, in particular those from Rich. It is necessary to identify the cause of the disruptive behaviour before taking steps to combat it.
    In my experience one to one meetings conducted informally with lots of open feeling questions will help coax the issues out of the delegate.
    Point out how the delegate has been behaving and ask them why they are reacting negatively towards training. Is there anything that the business can do to encourage their participation in learning?

    The delegate could be feeling undervalued by the business or maybe have an underlying learning difficulty that they are embarrassed to divulge.

    Remember that behaviour breeds behaviour, if you are open, honest and sincere in your 1-2-1 with them you will most likely get the same response in return. If you are aggressive however, you will only aggravate the situation and the delegate will resort to defensive aggression and negativity.

  7. Difficult Participant
    Hi folks, this is an interesting area and one I think every trainer has experience of.

    At Kaizen we operate from the principle that there’s no such thing as a ‘difficult participant’, just one with unanswered needs. I know this can often be a challenging at first but actually it gives you the ‘power’ back. Instead of thinking and feeling that this person has just been put on the planet to cause you trouble, it allows you to ask (internally) the question ‘what need or question do they have that hasn’t been met or answered’. By doing this you’re giving yourself the ‘power’ back.

    You could also consider looking at Multiple Intelligences if you’re not familiar with it. By ensuring that all Intelligences are encorporated into the design, you’re giving every participant the opportunity to learn in the way that they learn best.

    Finally (and this is probably the biggest opportunity), to what degree do you focus on ‘set up’, e.g. what happens to get the learners in the right ‘state for learning’ before they even enter the room? An oppropriate welcome pack can really make a difference, as does the support of the line manager, especially for a participant like this.

    Do feel free to drop me a line or give me a call if you’d like to know more about any of these areas.



  8. Difficult participant
    Some very good advice already given above. When I consider this problem for trainers I automatically think of the addage “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows” (Epictetus?).

    Whilst taking the point already made, we should not single out students but establish early on in the session what they are yet to learn.

    If you have a “know-it-all” student then there is little a trainer can do and it becomes the responsibility of line manager to review. From my experience, the line managers are not very good at dealing with this situation so perhaps we need to start with them.

  9. difficult why?
    I can remember years ago when I was working with so-called difficult teenagers, there was often a reason as has been mentioned already. The worst were kids who at 15 couldn’t actually read, and avoided it being discovered by throwing tantrums when it looked as tho’ they might have to read.

    I’ve found that taking the person seriously without letting them disrupt the process is important. And asking them directly, 1:1, why they’re doing what they do sometimes helps them pull themselves together.

  10. Difficult participants
    Hi Just some thoughts hope there useful,thru out my career I have had the opportunity to work with many and varied groups and have found that there are often connections as to how individuals are feeling and feel they are being treated within the work place.I feel that there is no such thing as difficult staff, just;
    Missed managed;
    >Development needs/ promotion
    What most of it amounts to is not having a voice and not having that voice heard and valued within the work place.The training environment is often the place a person feels able to bring these out. As trainers we know that creating a safe environment is of the essence if people are to learn and this learning must relate to thier feild of experience and relate to work/ role /function to be able to apply the learning.One of the ways to include people, is to ensure they have
    >clear pre course objectives set with their line manager?
    >Clearly know and understand the expectations of the organisation after the training event?
    >Clearly know and understand their expectations after the event?
    and finally for the trainer to ensure that an Action Plan is completed at the end of the Training, to take back to their line manager and discuss with them, how they are going to get the support and development required to immplement the learning back in the work area.Often if people feel included in setting of these they are more likely to want to be successful and for the training to have meaning for them and their work. A lot there I know, but it also says as much about the work place and managers as it does about those staff who now find themselves labelled Difficult.



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