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Joy Wilson

Spectrum Training services

Learning and Development Consultant

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Everyone is entitled to his opinion – Managing The Classroom Challenger


Imagine the scene, it’s the first day in front of a new group of people, this contract is important to you and you hope that your  training course will attract favourable reviews. You are both positive and confident.  You begin to describe the outcomes and benefits of the course with great enthusiasm and barely make it to the end of your third sentence when you are confronted by the classroom challenger.

Fresh out of charm school. A professional heckler!   Mr obnoxious clearly has taken an opinion pill and continues to challenge your delivery at every opportunity. Opinion is good if it provides positive intellectual challenge, however this is a barrage of abuse which crosses the line argumentative, rude and disruptive.

FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real

Feeling vulnerable you try to maintain your confidence and professionalism, there is a parallel thinking process going on, the conscious mind is delivering the training course content, the sub conscious is desperately searching for strategies to deal with the situation. Your view of the situation becomes distorted you misinterpret the non verbal behaviour of the majority as delegates as sympathy and the fight or flight response kicks in.  When our fight or flight system is activated, we tend to perceive everything in our environment as a possible threat to our survival. By its very nature, the fight or flight system by passes our rational mind.
Prisoners, Passengers, Protestors and Participants

How many training courses have you delivered where people have been determined to sabotage the event? Very few if any! There are 4 types of attendees, Participants attend training events with enthusiasm and curiosity they represent the majority. Prisoners have been sent on the course, the luxury of choice has been removed for them your challenge is to convince them that their time will be well spent. Passengers come along for the ride; they scan the delegate list for like minded people, and are there to observe the proceedings. Protestors are extremely rare and provide a constant source of irritation for the majority.
You have the support you need!

Once the line between excessive contradiction and valuable contribution is crossed the other delegates are on your side, they find his behaviour annoying and disruptive also but they don’t have the authority to confront the individual directly. You can neutralise Mr Obnoxious with their support and the sooner you do this the quicker that support will be available
Neutralising the Noxious

Here are a range of useful techniques that will help you to head off unwelcome challenges:

    Take a break

Impose a 5 minute coffee break, and ask your delegates to consider those behaviours that if they continue are likely to have a detrimental effect on them and your ability to make progress ask them to consider “If the cap fits” and what behaviours would be more productive and appropriate

    Set the scene

Sometimes people behave inappropriately because they have no experience of being a delegate. One way to head off unwelcome disruptions is to let people know how they can get the best out of the session. A pre-prepared flipchart or a job description describing a successful participant can help to establish group norms and help people to adapt to aspects of successful team working quickly.

This approach has been incredibly useful for me when working with an organisation that has decided that all of its managers should achieve a certain accreditation as a benchmark/standard. Many people resented the approach and of course wanted to use the training event to protest about their prisoner status! To set the scene and head off the conflict that this unpopular policy had provoked my rules of engagement included a statement to say that the decision had been made and therefore the purpose of the training was not to debate the decision but to maximise the opportunity.

    The doubtful and The disparaging

Use this metaphor to explain to the group that people arrive at training events with 2 suitcases labelled Doubtful and Disparaging. Tell them it’s OK to place the doubtful suitcase next to them and dip into it throughout the day whenever they have doubts that need clarification. However they should leave the disparaging suitcase outside the door because it contains disapproval and contempt, explain that if they still want it they can pick it up when they leave or we can simply arrange for the cleaner to put it with the rubbish

    I want some attention!

Occasionally people draw attention to themselves not out of hostility but simply because they need a little attention. Rotating small groups and assigning these people to a leadership role works wonders in occupying them and channelling all of that energy

    Recognise my contribution

I always go to events armed with a bag of prizes; they range from badges to sweets, fiddly toys, pens, and key rings. It sounds silly but we all appreciate recognition and this method is incredibly effective in rewarding and encouraging appropriate contributions

    Thank you

There is no law that says you need to respond to every negative or distractive comment so and with great sincerity, simply thank the individual for their contribution and move on with your agenda

    How will your boss react when he sees you back at your desk?

Use this as a final tactic when the obnoxious behaviour continues. Call a tea break and approach the individual causing the disruption. Simply say can I have a word, when you have his attention ask “Is this personal”?  This question usually generates a denial of any personal intent and catches the culprit completely off guard. You can now continue to point out the options available to you should this behaviour continue, which are to continue without the individual, or to cancel the whole event. Point out that the choice of which course of action would be best is entirely his!

Be Better! Developing Skilled Training Professionals – A Competency Based Course  Accredited By The ILM

Author Profile Picture
Joy Wilson

Learning and Development Consultant

Read more from Joy Wilson

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