Difficult Delegates, But Are They Really?

Do you encounter difficult delegates in your meetings, presentations or training courses? In this post we look at why we shouldn't call them difficult but instead recognise that it's just different behaviours that we need to understand how to deal with.

Dealing With Difficult Delegates
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Dealing With Difficult Delegates

After spending this past few days delivering a course that I’ve delivered every week for what feels like forever, this week I’ve been faced with a fair few difficult delegates.

Most on the whole are as positive as ever, a handful this week have been really awkward.

But here’s the question, should we really call them difficult?

Should We Call Delegates Difficult?

My view is no. As it’s behavioural, as far as they are concerned the behaviour they are demonstrating is completely acceptable. Fair enough they challenge, they disagree, they moan, they get negative – but don’t we absolutely have the right as delegates to do this? I know I certainly do, but maybe because I’m quite aware of my behaviour I do this in a way that is constructive.

The course I’m delivering is something I co-wrote, and we took a great deal of care and attention to ensure that the message was clear, the business case is clear and the need for them to be there is clear.

But, some of the delegates this week raised real concerns such as ‘I don’t see the point, we do this already’, ‘it sounds good on paper and theory, but in the real world it’s nothing like this’, ‘I understand what you are saying, but I’m too old to change’, ‘like we’re going to get the support to do this when we get back’ and ‘I haven’t got time to do the things that you are talking about’.

Probably quite common sayings, it’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard them.

As I said before though, they have every right to raise these things, but if they are not aware of their behaviour, sometimes the challenges are not that constructive, and our perceptions may provide us with a completely different story of what they are really doing.

Managing Delegate Behaviours

This is why I prefer not to use the term Dealing with Difficult Delegates but use Managing Different Behaviours instead.

Here are some of the things that I do to Manage Different Behaviours

Cynics. These are the people who raise concerns to say that it won’t work, or we’ve tried it before and nothing happened, so why should it work now. With this behaviour I constructively challenge the cynicism by questioning it. Using questions such as ‘If it won’t work that way, what could you do to make it work’? Or ‘Why didn’t it work last time and what could you do this time to make sure it does?’

Argumentative. There are the people that argue the points that you try to make without little back up. Simply saying it won’t work or the approach is rubbish. Again, using constructive questioning to understand their ground for challenge will help you to understand if they are being disruptive or cynical.

Dominant. These are the people who are brimming with confidence and answer any question you ask the group and also tend to interrupt others answering questions. If the behaviour isn’t dealt with, then it will soon become the norm for everyone in the group to look to that person to answer the question. Using vocal approaches I find can have an adverse affect here, but I find body language more effective. Acknowledge that they have something to say by making eye contact and use a dampening motion toward the floor with your hand as if to say ‘wait a second’ and invite the other person to continue. Ensure you go back to the person though to hear their thoughts. Also remember, dominance isn’t always negative – they may be very positive but being dominant with that.

Jokers. These are the people who make a joke of everything and want to be the centre of attention. If not managed, they will continue to joke to gain a reaction from the group. I simply react to them once or twice, but in future simply thank them calmly, bring the groups attention back and move on. If you react to every joke you have made, again they will do it all the more to gain a reaction.

Side Conversations. This is where two people are having a conversation between themselves outside of your main group. I think it’s important to understand what the conversation is about. If they are pointing at materials or flips on the wall, it may be that one of them missed a point but doesn’t have the confidence to speak up. Where as if they are making eye contact with each other it could be that they are talking about what to have for lunch or what happened in TV last night. If you believe they are talking about the course then move over toward them, and ask if everything is OK. If it’s a TV conversation I find just stopping mid flow and looking over in their direction is a clear enough way of ensuring they don’t do it again.

Timid People. These are the people that don’t say anything. The most common thing to do with these people is to ask them a direct question – but a one that you know they can answer. I tend to make sure that these questions are not about anything technical, but more asking how they feel about the idea or discussion or what they think. Everyone should know the answer tot hose questions and should help them build confidence.

Managing Difficult Delegates Training Courses

If you are interested in learning more, Revolution Learning and Development Ltd runs a Train the Trainer Course and Presentation Skills Course where we look at dealing with a range of delegate behaviours effectively.


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