“Difficult Delegates” in Training

I’ve seen several articles for trainers and training managers on “dealing with difficult delegates”. These always left a bad taste in my mouth for a few reasons:
– The act of labelling people as “difficlut” or “snipers”, “whiners” or “bulldozers” rather than seeing them as human beings meeting needs
– The fact that labelling people sets up a mind-set which reduces rather increases the chances of learning occurring
– The assumptions that such learners were to be manipulated from a “superior” position as a trainer
While like all trainers I have frustating days and delegates I find easier than others to work with, I think there can be another approach to the issue of “difficult delegates”.
Difficult Delegates as a Gift
In every training there is someone “difficult” in my experience. They are a gift. What do I mean by this – surely someone who objects to each point, doesn’t do what you ask or continually interrupts you is just a pain in the butt? In my experience such people are a function of the group. For example a delegate who aggressively dismisses a training point, will often be revealing what other quieter “politer” delegates are already thinking. Equally the “class clown” provides light relief when training stimulates stress, “bull-dozers” let you set boundaries and demonstrate your leadership and “inarticulate” people enable you to clarify training points. They are all gifts.
As well as acknowledging group functions and re framing challenges as opportunities, the crucial thing for me is to connect with the needs behind the behaviour that as a trainer I label difficult. E.g respect, acknowledgement or fun. A helpful piece here is that feelings point the way to met or unmet needs. When I can connect with the underlying needs and empathise with them, the paradox is that the delegates often become much easier to work with. This is extremely practical, so this isn’t about being nice. It is also not a manipulative trick and if it is done as a trick without the intention to connect, it won’t “work.” Again paradox.
Happily I’m not the only trainer to think this way. Essentially the principles I present are from NonViolent Communication. Fellow Brighton training company Silicon Beach recently publishes this article which has some helpful advice on working with delegates who don’t want to be in a training at all. My own policy is never to train people who don’t want to be there as it’s a waste of my time and theirs – buy-in is essential not a luxury. Here are Integration Training’s own communication training courses which include managing “difficult” behaviour.
Training So What: There are no difficult delegates, and if there are viewing them as such wont help.