Photo by: Alex Brylov via Canva
Let’s face it: no one likes it AND it’s the hardest part of our job. We all have our own “war stories” we love to share. So, what am I referring to? Of course, it’s how to deal with difficult participants.
In part one of this article, I focused on the “prisoner” and shared specific strategies to deal with that behavior. Now, I’d like to share six simple steps to deal with ANY difficult participant or behavior. I promise this model will set you up for success and keep your sessions running smoothly.
The first step is to isolate and identify a specific behavior and not a personality trait. Typically, participants are not shy about displaying a negative behavior. This could include texting, monopolizing, sidebar conversations, or being late to class. In any event, regardless of how annoying the participant might be, let’s focus on the troubling behavior.
2. Does it Matter?
Here, we determine if we even need to intervene. If the only thing being hurt is your ego, then I defer to the iconic Elsa in Frozen and say, “Let it go.” If it’s disrupting the other participants’ learning experience, we need to deal with it.
Sometimes the individual will stop the disruptive behavior. It could be a single occurrence and that’s the end of it. Consider yourself lucky and get back to teaching.
4. Group Correct
If you’ve built rapport with the group, they may correct the behavior for you. This has happened to me many times over the years, and I much prefer the group correct over having to deal with it myself.
5. Low-Level Intervention
Next, we recommend using subtle and indirect techniques to deal with the issue. Let’s say two people are having a sidebar conversation while I’m speaking. I can take a silent pause, move closer to the individuals, use extended eye contact or, my favorite, use their names in a sentence. It’s amazing how people always hear their own name, even when they’re in a conversation.
6. High-Level Intervention
When all else fails, initiate a private one-on-one discussion with the difficult participant. Of course, it’s all about what you say and how you say it. I would never approach someone and begin with, “You’re disrupting the class.” That puts the person on the defensive and builds a wall between the two of you.
The trick is to use “I” statements and let the person know how their behavior is affecting you. I might say something like, “Joe, I appreciate having you in class and all your contributions. It’s just that when there are sidebar conversations, I get distracted. It would help me if we could limit them to break time. What are your thoughts?”
With this technique, you’re being respectful and courteous. No attacks or put downs. Luckily, I haven’t had to use this model too often (yes, we have the BEST clients at Langevin) but when I do, it gets the job done.
For even more tips, check out our Instructional Techniques for New Instructors workshop. If you’re new to training, this workshop is for you! You’ll learn how to increase participation, motivate your learners, and hold their attention.
Have you used a similar model, and how has it worked for you?