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Four Ways to Deal with Difficult Behaviours in Training

Managing difficult behaviours in training can sometimes be more challenging than learning the subject matter or getting the timing right. Often classroom management is not covered in trainer preparation courses (or undergraduate teaching degrees, for that matter) so we are often ill-prepared to deal effectively with distracting, negative or counter-productive behaviour. Below are four techniques to assist trainers in getting back that control.
Regroup
Regrouping helps build energy, break pre-occupation, facilitate networking and keep bodies in motion. However, from the classroom management perspective, regular regrouping assists the trainer in staying in control of the group and ensures that difficult personalities are shared around the room. There are many ways to regroup an audience. However, some of the simplest methods are as follows:

  • Use playing cards and have participants form new groups by suit.
  • Use different coloured handouts and have participants from new groups by colour.
  • Count off around the tables and have everyone with the same number form a new group. This could be equally effective with letters, particularly if the letters have meaning to the content. For example, in a course on facilitation techniques the participants could be regrouped by M, C and T (Mentoring, Coaching or Tutoring).
  • Use preference posters to engage the formation of new groups (e.g. Go to the poster which represents your highest preference between these options: “Tea,” “Coffee,” “Hot Chocolate,” “Water.”)

Redirect
Sometimes as trainers we have to act like traffic police and redirect from where the contributions are coming. You may choose to move from group to group or from one side of the room to the other. This will manage the dominators and will enable others to have a voice. This redirection could be dressed up as part of a game show or quiz where there are rules about how and when teams provide answers. This variation provides an element of fun, whilst still providing the trainer with the necessary control over the session.
Deflect
When faced with the "constant questioner" or that participant who asks sophisticated questions, not to get an answer, but to test the trainer, the deflection method can provide a welcome breather. There are a number of effective ways to deflect whilst still honouring the contribution and maintaining the integrity of the session. Here are four suggestions:
Ask the audience—Turn the question around and ask the class as a whole. Say something like, "Awesome question, what does the rest of the group think?” This will share the burden of a difficult question and give the trainer time to formulate a considered response.
Check the facts—Be up front and say, “That’s an interesting question, I want to give you the best answer so I will have to check the latest information/data/research on this and get back to you soon." To keep you honest and demonstrate that you take the question seriously, you may want to jot the question down on the board in an “Action Plan Section”.
Empower the participant—Respond with, “Good question. Although I think we will answer that later when we cover some other content. However, make sure you ask the question again if it’s still not clear."
Move to a break—Release the rest of the class to a break by saying, “That sounds like something unique to your situation. Let’s take this offline and have a chat during the next break. If anyone else is interested, feel free to join us." This approach will minimize the content hogs and enable the trainer to focus on information that is of relevance to the majority of their audience. However, it also ensures that those with unique needs can be supported as well.

When deflecting, it is important to follow the Affirmation-Deflection-Appreciation model.

  • Affirm the question. (“That’s a great question.”)
  • Deflect to a more appropriate time or way of engaging (“However, let’s park that for now, as we will be discussing this in a later section.”)
  • Appreciate their contribution. ("Thanks so much for the question though!”)

Divide and Conquer
Sometimes the distractions are so great that it is difficult for the trainer to manage them when in front of the whole group. As such, it may be easier to work with a smaller group at a time to work through the counter-productive behaviour. Whilst the other groups are focused on a task, the trainer can support a difficult group or simply use proximity control to keep them on task.
Trainers will often face challenging behaviours in the classroom, but with some gentle tweaking on the run and by using the techniques described, they will have a better chance of restoring balance.
By Marc Ratcliffe