Creating a safe, inspiring learning environmentUnderstanding and facilitating individual and group learning process

Problematic participants as a risk that needs to be identified and addressed

While most participants are cooperative and manageable, at times you will encounter a few problematic types. This is a tool that aims to introduce you with the popular theory that there are certain personality types or certain behaviours that can be addressed using concrete strategies.

Why did I choose this tool? There are several approaches to the behavior of the participants that are not convenient for the trainer/facilitator and might become annoying for the group of learners. I chose this tool to introduce one of the approaches – connecting difficult behaviour with the types of personalities and having a prepared list of strategies that can be effective when dealing with these types. This tool should be used alongside with the tool ‘Dealing with problematic behavior’.

How does this apply to being a trainer? While there are plenty of risks that you can face while running a training programme, many of them can be prevented. Having problematic participants can also be prevented to a certain point, but more likely, you’ll have to deal with them on the go. Knowing the most typical “Problems” in the group and having some tips and tricks in your sleeve on how to address them, can be useful for everyone. 

Main content: 

  1. Read through these documents that list types of “problematic participants” and ways how to deal with them:
  1. Rank the Top 5 of the most problematic participants from your perspective.
  2. Based on the chosen Top 5, make (write down) strategies that you would be comfortable to use with a group.

Reflection questions

  1. Which ones of the “problematic participants” do you meet more often than others in your professional life?
  2. Which ones are the easiest for you to deal with? Which strategies do you use?
  3. Which ones are the most difficult for you to deal with? Why do you think that is?
  4. Which strategy for dealing with difficult participants do you disagree with? Why?
  5. Which strategies you have employed yourself?
  6. Do you ever become a problematic participant yourself? Which one? How do educators deal with you? 

Exercises

  • Start scanning the participants from their application/participant information forms and communication through e-mails, upon arrival during sessions and outside of them;
  • Discuss the possible “challenging participants” with your colleague or team of trainers.
  • Identify the behaviour and prepare several strategies that you would be comfortable to use with this group and this participant.
  • Apply them when/if needed. 

Closing: Problematic participants are a fact of training work. The texts try to suggest some ways of coping with them. Basically, you will be ahead of the game if you regard the problematic participant as a challenge rather than a headache. This means that you must show patience and avoid arguments and putdowns. Try to deal politely with the problematic participants’ behavior by using some of the suggestions made from above. Also, whenever possible, let the group deal with such participants. The group will probably do it more effectively than you can.

Coping with “problematic participants” is an important aspect during the training programme. Also, it’s important to be true to yourself. Are they really “problematic participants” or they are somehow inconvenient for you because of personal or other reasons. Labeling can be done easily and saves you a lot of time, but might not be the best tactic to follow. What can also help you is understanding where the participants are coming from, choosing the right approach (supporting, encouraging, confronting) and contributing to their personal development. A different approach of dealing with problematic behaviour is presented in the tool “Addressing problematic behavior”.

Author of the article: Justina Garbauskaitė-Jakimovska

Justina Garbauskaitė-Jakimovska is a freelance educator and researcher in the field of non-formal learning and youth who also works in the teacher training programmes at Vilnius University in Lithuania. Favourite topics are facilitation of learning, personal and professional development. Justina is also a member of the Pool European Youth Researchers, her research interests are non-formal learning process, how learners experience and make sense out of it, the professional development of youth workers and trainers in the youth field. All of this combined = evidence based practices + practice informed research.

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Editor: Donatas Petkauskas

is professional supervisor, coach and experiential learning trainer, having more than 15 years of experience in consulting various organizations and individuals, creating and conducting training course on national and international levels. Donatas has extensive experience in non-formal education, training of youth workers and trainers. He is working in the field of non-formal education since 2003, since 2004 he is a member of trainers pool of Lithuanian National Agency (currently an alumni).

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Be prepared for difficult participants. Available online at kpsahs.edu2. Davis, S. How to gracefully deal with the “problematic” participant Eitington, E. J. (2002). The winning trainer: winning ways to involve people in learning. Boston: Elsevier.Humnaniqua.com (2015). Problem Participants: Common Training Session Obstacles: humaniqasolutionscentre.comLaurel and Associates, Ltd. (2010). How to handle difficult participants: laurelandassociates.comTownsend, J. (2010). The managing difficult participants pocket book. Available online at pocketbook.co.uk
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