Call us today 1-800-223-2209
Email Us

Langevin's Train-the-Trainer Blog

6 Simple Steps to Deal with Difficult Participants

Posted by Marsha Weisleder on 12/1/14 3:00 AM
Find me on:



Let’s face it, no one likes it AND it’s the hardest part of our job. We all have our own “war stories” that we love to share. So, what am I referring to? Of course, it’s how to deal with difficult participants. No fear, my fellow trainers. Here are 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. You can learn about them and so much more in our Instructional Techniques for New Instructors workshop.


Step 1: Identify

The first step is to isolate and identify a specific behavior and not a personality trait. Typically, some participants aren’t shy about displaying a negative behavior. These could include texting, monopolizing, side-bar conversations, or being late to class. In any event, regardless of how annoying the participant is to you, let’s focus on the troubling behavior.


Step 2: Does it matter?

In step 2, we determine if we even need to intervene. If the only thing being hurt is your ego, then let it go. If it’s disrupting other’s learning, then you need to deal with it.


Step 3: Self-Correct

Sometimes the individual just stops the disruptive behavior. It could be a single occurrence and that’s the end of it. Consider yourself lucky and get back to teaching.


Step 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.


Step 5: Low-Level Intervention

Here, we recommend using subtle and indirect techniques to deal with the issue. Let’s say two people are having a side-bar 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 they always hear their name, even when people are in conversation.


Step 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 you. The trick is to use “I Statements” and inform the person how their behavior is affecting you. No put downs or attacks. I might say something like, “Joe, I appreciate having you in class and all of your contributions. It’s just when there are side-bar conversations, I lose my place. It would help me if we could limit them to break time. What are your thoughts?”


Luckily I haven’t had to use this model too often (yes, at Langevin we have the BEST clients!) but when I do, it gets the job done. Have you used a similar model, and how has it worked for you?

Dealing with Difficult Participants

Marsha has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience. She went on to attend Osgoode Hall Law School and practiced civil litigation for a few years. While working for a company as their in-house legal counsel, Marsha fell into a training position and never looked back! Each day, Marsha brings passion and excitement to her workshops, always encouraging her participants to find their own passion as well. Outside of the classroom, Marsha loves to spend time with her family, travel, and stay active. Of course her main obsession is Elvis! Some people might think she’s a little over-the-top about him, but doesn’t everyone have an Elvis shrine in their home? Maybe not…

Tags: difficult participants, instructional techniques

About this Blog

Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts