Difficult delegates

I was prompted to write the following in response to a posting on a training discussion forum which asked about handling difficult delegates on a training course.  As it happens, I’ve been commissioned to write a book on managing difficult people in the workplace, so this was very much in my mind at the time of posting. Although the book will be about  managing difficult people in the workplace, rather than in the training room, the same principles apply.

In essence, I believe that most of us do the best we can in whatever situation we find ourselves. We are the sum total of everything that brought us to that point. I cannot possibly know everything about everyone who comes to a training session, and I have to start with the belief that their fundamental reason for being there on that day (with some exceptions) is not to make my life miserable, because it’s not about me.

In a sense suggesting that delegates are difficult is to suggest that I have an ideal and that they are no conforming to it. Equally, I may not be confirming to theirs. And at some level, there is a supreme arrogance in expecting people to conform to my ideal. Therein lies bigotry, prejudice and exclusion. I like some people more than I like others. I find some fascinating and others boring. I know how I’m feeling and what has influenced my mood before I walk into the training room and I have no idea about anyone else’s day so far. I have been infuriated at times by what I have perceived as ridiculous challenges to what I have said and discovered later that this was simply someone’s way of learning and straightening out their own thinking. I have watched people looking bored and appearing not to be focus and realised that they are reflecting deeply on the conversations around them and retreating inside to examine their own thinking. I have seen people apparently highly engaged who have given a course a low evaluation.

It’s terribly difficult to be resilient in the face of behaviours that don’t suit us and match our hopes and expectations and I don’t claim mastery of it. I do know that if I stop taking things personally – the delegates didn’t come in for my entertainment or to please me – I then pay more attention to the subjective experience of the individuals in the room and, by working harder to understand their experience, can create a better experience for them.

To discuss any aspect of leadership and management development, soft skills training or business consultancy, call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

David Cotton

David Cotton is an independent trainer, management consultant, facilitator and speaker with vast international experience.

About davidcottonuk
I'm an international trainer, speaker and facilitator. I've worked in 4 continents and 40 countries, delivering all aspects of leadership, management and behavioural skills training to local and national government and nearly every industry sector. I've written a dozen books, and scores of journal articles.

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