Photo by: Robin Higgins via Pixabay
Negativity has no place in training. It can derail learning-based conversations and discussions. It can taint the experience for trainees who actually want to learn. A negative training environment can even block learning from occurring, which can have a detrimental impact on successful job performance.
But let’s face it, a negative learner (or group of learners) will inevitability show up in one of your training sessions from time to time. Perhaps they are negative because they were forced to attend a mandatory course. They could be upset about a policy change they’re now tasked with learning. Heck, their negativity could even be aimed at you simply because they don’t like you as a facilitator.
As a trainer, you must address negativity when it occurs. As author and blogger, Bobby Darnell, so famously said, “Negativity is cannibalistic. The more you feed it, the bigger and stronger it grows.” If you let it, negativity will eat away at the entire training experience (pun intended!).
I’ll share some techniques that I’ve successfully used to combat negativity when it occasionally rears its ugly little head in any of my training sessions.
Listen with Empathy
I’ve learned from years of working in various customer service positions, people often just want to vent and be heard. This might require you to carve out a bit of time in the class schedule to have a controlled discussion (with ground rules and time limits) where the learners express themselves.
You may find their negativity comes from a source of genuine concern or frustration. When you listen to the concerns of the learners with empathy, and without judgment, they’ll typically view you as an ally, not an adversary. It’s quite possible their negativity diminishes simply because you cared enough to listen.
Once you’ve heard the learners concerns and frustrations, be open and honest regarding how you might be able to help. In some cases, you may not be able to do anything monumental, like changing a mandated policy they disagree with. However, you may be able to relay their concerns about that policy to upper management. Simply be transparent about doing what is within your control.
What is essentially within your control is your commitment to providing the best training possible. Stress to them your dedication to assisting when needed. Assure the learners you’ll create an uplifting and engaging environment that becomes a safe space to learn.
You’ve allowed your learners to vent and you’ve been honest in your commitment to help. So, what do you do if the negativity persists? At this point, you may have to turn the tables on your negative participants. In the most tactful and diplomatic way, encourage them to come up with their own solutions.
If their concern is that “It will never work,” your response might be, “Let’s work together to find a solution that will work.” If their concern is that “It’s too difficult,” your response might be, “What can we do to simplify it?”
By encouraging your learners to turn their barriers into opportunities, it sends a very clear message that it is no longer acceptable to wallow in the pit of “can’t” and “won’t.” Hopefully you’ll inspire them to proactively determine their own solutions, along with your help and assistance if needed.
When turning the tables on your negative naysayers, be prepared to experience a fair amount of pushback. More than likely, they expect you to jump into the pool of negativity with them. Instead, you’ve thrown them an inflatable life vest and instructed them to swim. This might be perceived as a challenge they probably won’t be too happy about.
Uphold the ideals of a true facilitator. In that moment, take a deep breath, stay calm, and most importantly, remain positive. I once heard a well-respected manager say, “Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve. It’s leadership.” Be a leader, and don’t add more fuel to the fire by being negative yourself.
These techniques, along with your professionalism and diplomacy, should go a long way in combating the negative attitudes and behaviors you’ll occasionally encounter in training. For additional tips on handling these and other challenging situations, check out Langevin’s Advanced Instructional Techniques workshop. It focuses on what master trainers do to create a positive climate for learning, lead groups, motivate learners, deal with difficult participants, and much more!