A question I always get asked during my Train the Trainer courses is how to deal with difficult and challenging behaviour. There will be times when all trainers experience testing behaviour and not only those dealing with difficult clients where you might expect it.
Challenging behaviour can come from the most unexpected source. For example, you might be delivering a training session to some of your colleagues and someone you regard perhaps as a good friend, decides to be the joker of the group. It’s impossible to foresee these situations, the knack is knowing what to do when they arise and, if at all possible, prevent them before they happen or have the opportunity to escalate.
Firstly, let's look at some types of challenging behaviour you might face. You may have learners who:
• Talk too much
• Constantly ask questions
• Say nothing
• Challenge what you say
• Start an off-topic conversation
• Always try to make a joke
• Openly do not want to be there
• Refuse to participate
• Behave aggressively towards you or other group members
While this list is in no way covers all types of difficult behaviour, it covers the majority you might experience and many of the causes can be closely linked to the things that stop people being ready to learn in the first place. For example, having other issues on their mind; having concerns about the training; not wanting to be there; not being able to see the relevance and anticipating it will be boring. All these can lead to difficult training room behaviour
Here are some of the options you have to deal with these situations:
Make effective use of short breaks. If you feel there is a problem brewing in the training room then call for a break, let the group go for a cigarette or refreshments and, if necessary, speak privately with the person or persons involved.
Engage them more
One method that I've used numerous times is to encourage troublesome learners to be more involved in the training session. By bringing them in to the conversation or activity, I'm showing that I value their contribution. Or I might team them up with someone who is struggling with the topic. Once the troublesome learner realises you value their input and attendance they often forget all about being a nuisance.
Use the power of silence
There will be times when you find that silence is the most effective tool you can use. By keeping quiet, even just for a few seconds, the group will quickly link this to any misbehaviour that is taking place and will often self-govern the problem to get the training back on course.
The use of body language, such as raised eyebrows, a frown, even a smile to indicate you know that they are tempted to misbehave will often deter the majority of learners from imminent misdemeanour. You can use eye contact to encourage a particular learner to contribute more or avoid eye contact if you have someone who is contributing too much. You can also make effective use of your ability to move around the room. For example, if two people were holding an off-topic conversation, you can move towards them without drawing attention to this and without disrupting the flow of the session. As you get closer to them, they will probably be aware of your presence and end their conversation. If not, you can move closer while still keeping the session going. You might even kneel down between them without saying a word to them and continuing to keep the session going. Needless to say, the conversation between them will quickly come to a halt.
Very occasionally, there is a potential for aggressive behaviour within a training room. The key to dealing with this is to prevent the problem before it happens. To do this you have to trust your gut instinct and be proactive rather than reactive. Do something about it right away. You will need to speak privately to the people involved and if their issues cannot be resolved then you will have to ask them to leave because the safety of the other group members should always be your priority.
I use this technique on a regular basis to encourage the quiet ones to participate. Introduce activities that involve them working in pairs or small groups, or change the seating arrangements and get people moving around if you feel there are clique groups forming in the room. This involves thinking on your feet and having strategies to put in place when you see a potential problem.
Speak privately with the learner
Having a chat with someone during a break can reveal exactly why a learner is behaving in a particular way. You can find out why they are quiet and not contributing or why they feel the need to continually talk off-topic to the person next to them. Speaking privately with the learner has the advantage of not making the rest of the group aware of the problem.
Are you in the right frame of mind to be delivering training? You can't get your learners to participate if you're not in the right frame of mind yourself. If you turn up feeling tired, bored, frustrated, annoyed or anxious, that's what will come over to your learners and that's how they will feel, resulting in an almost definite display of challenging behaviour. It is a fact, we're not always in the best frame of mind ourselves when we get to the training room, so, whatever happens before you get there, whatever sort of mood you're in, get yourself energised and positive before you start. There are different ways to do this. Some people listen to their favourite music, some do a few exercises, some take a few minutes for quiet reflection. Whatever works for you, be aware of your own state and get yourself in the right mood. If you want people to refrain from being challenging, that has to start with you.
Ask them to leave
If their behaviour continues to be disruptive then this is the final step and, on occasions, the right one because it has two possible effects. Firstly, the learner leaves and the rest of the group can enjoy the remainder of the session. Alternatively, the learner realises the consequences of having to leave and changes their behaviour.
One important thing to remember is not to dwell on bad sessions or take them personally. They'll happen to us all at some point. Decide what could have been done to make the session better and how you would try to prevent the problems happening again. Then move on and prepare for the next session.
Gary Bedingfield Training offer Train the Trainer courses over 2 days, 1 day and online. Visit our website at www.garybedingfield.co.uk for more information.