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.
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Nothing new under the sun – business books and deforestation

Around 11,000 new business books are published every year.  Many of them promise to turn you into a leader, manager or entrepreneur and make you rich.  I have a number of deep suspicions about these books and am fascinated to know how you feel.  Here we go:

1. They say nothing new – simply because there are no new things to say

2. Many of them remain half read on your bookshelves.  You got the idea in the first couple of chapters and didn’t need to read the rest to discover what they were about
3.  They had little effect on your working practices
4. They had little effect on your productivity
5. They haven’t made you rich
6. They seemed to repeat things that you had read before
7. The better ones were simply rehashed common sense
8. You read some of them and thought “well, that’s obvious”
9. You read some of them and thought “I already know that”
10. You read some of them and thought “I could have written that
11. You still buy more…
One of the bestselling business books of all time was Stephen Covey’s 1989 publication, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It sold over 15 million copies and was published in 38 languages; it remained on the New York Times bestseller lists for 250 weeks. I have carried out a straw poll among friends, colleagues and clients.  Almost all had heard of it, most had at some point acquired a copy of it, and almost none of them had read it from cover to cover.   Like all the other business books, it sat on their shelves, partially read and made little real difference to their lives.  I am reminded of the people who put on track suits because it makes them feel fitter.  Equally, having a good array of business books on your shelves or on your Kindle probably makes you feel you are ahead of the game.
Just as self-help books don’t help unless you choose to do something, business books won’t change your life unless you apply what they suggest, and given that most of them are repeating what others suggest anyway, why not pick one you believe you will enjoy, read it from cover to cover and then start to practise what it suggests.  Then write to me in a year’s time and tell me if it made a difference.
Meanwhile, I have a crime novel to finish.

To request a business needs analysis, discuss any aspect of leadership and management development 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.

They made me come…learners, tourists and prisoners

To my mind, training course delegates fall into three broad categories: learners, tourists and prisoners.

Learners attend training because they have a real desire to learn something new.

Tourists come with the idea that there may be something of interested to be gleaned from the day, so they may as well stay and see what happens.

Prisoners arrive with the attitude “They made me come.”

Learners are a delight – they will join in activities and discussions, volunteer to present back, gee up the others (as long as the prisoners are not “mood Hoovers”, sucking all the positive energy out of the group.  Tourists can be fun, and it takes little to convert them to learners if you can engage them sufficiently early in the day in something they see as relevant.  Prisoners are harder work because, even if they find themselves enjoying the course and getting something from it, they remain reluctant to admit that they are benefiting from the day.

The trick, then, is ‘inoculation’ at the outset.  Instead of expending energy trying to win over the prisoners, which is often to the detriment of the learning experience for the genuine learners, tell the delegates about the three categories at the outset and ask them to name the category which best describes them.  The fact that you have acknowledged the possibility that some are prisoners amuses them and takes the wind out of their sails.  In a strange sort of way, because you have declared that it’s possible to be a prisoner on a course lets you into their world, and they find it difficult to display the huffing, puffing, “I don’t want to be here” behaviours that you might otherwise encounter.

So, if you have any suspicion that you have prisoners on the course, let them know and you (and they) will have a better, easier day.

Call me on +44(0)161 929 4145 or email David Cotton.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Meanwhile, happy new year!

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