Dealing with Disgruntled Participants

The sighs grow heavier and louder as the training session progresses.

Eyes roll and pens lay untouched on the table.

One or two stay put when the group is invited to stand for an activity.

Sound familiar? Well, if you’re a trainer, you know I’m describing one of your most challenging dilemmas— disgruntled participants.

They come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them resent being forced to participate in the training event. Others are in a lousy mood because a customer or co-worker prior to the start of the session reamed them out. Then there are those who just enjoy being difficult because that’s just how they are wired.

So, what is a trainer to do?

  • It is critical that you are well prepared. Being well prepared keeps you laser focused and greatly enhances your ability to stay in control of the training environment. Lack of preparation puts you on edge. Little things can become big things in a hurry, and you may quickly blame others for what is happening in class when the fault lies with lack of preparation before class.
  • Show up early. Do not put the time a class starts in your calendar. Instead, put the time you need to be there on your calendar. At a minimum, you should arrive a half an hour prior to the session beginning. Best practices indicate you should arrive 45 minutes to one hour prior to start time. This allows you to check all connections, room set-up, and be free to start building rapport the moment the first participant enters the room.
  • Invite participants to take an ethical approach to training. I gently remind participants very early in all my sessions that we are “at work”. I invite them to put the same energies into the session as they pour into their daily job responsibilities.
  • Explain why we’re here. Malcolm Knowles, the thought leader in adult learning theory in the past many decades, notes adults learn more effectively when they know why they are learning. If you dive into the material without explaining why it is relevant, you may witness more blank stares than engaging minds.
  • Finally, if you have a participant who wants to take control of the class, do everything you can to involve him or her in sharing their expertise. If things begin to get out of control, take a ten-minute break, get with the individual one-on-one, and politely describe to the participant how his or her behaviors are impacting the class.  Treat the person with dignity and respect, which will increase the likelihood that he or she will reciprocate.

Happy Training!

Greg Anderson
Written by:
Greg Anderson
President of Online Learning, Strategic Government Resources
Follow Greg on Twitter!@SGRGreg

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