Tip #365: How to Address Valid Participant Concerns

” It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle

There are many reasons why participants have a negative attitude when they come to a training session. Some of these reasons include the fact that the training program is either: (1) mandatory,

(2) repetitive, (3) misdirected, (4) inconvenient, or (5) controversial.

None of these reasons have much to do with the trainer, although they all impact the ability of the trainer to effectively deliver the training program. So what can a trainer do when faced with these situations?

Acknowledge the participants’ concerns. This is vital, particularly when the participants’ concerns are justified. Then refocus them on something more constructive.

1.Mandatory Training:No one likes to be forced to do something, so it is understandable if participants resist a mandatory training program.

In this case, the trainer should be prepared with an activity that will encourage participant buy-in to the value of the program. For example:

(a)Mark Ups.Have the participants individually identify, mark and report a few learning objectives of particular value to them.

(b)Benefits Question. Divide the group into two smaller groups to brainstorm answers to a question that asks them to identify the benefits of the training. Have them post their answers on a flipchart and report out at the end of the brainstorming time.

2. Repetitive Training. Sometimes the training is repetitive because of legal or recertification requirements. It is no wonder that participants chafe at having to attend the same training over and over again.

In this case, the trainer may want to adapt the training content to accommodate the participants’ needs and take advantage of participant expertise. For example:

(a)Problem Solving.Ask the participants to identify problems or issues that they are facing in relation to the learning content. Next, either direct a large discussion of each item or have small groups work to determine possible workarounds or solutions for an item relevant to them, which they then report out to the larger group.

(b)Challenge Activities.Bring work problems and case studies that will challenge the participants to achieve higher levels of learning, such as analysis, evaluation or creation.

(c)Seed Expertise.Have more seasoned participants sit with groups of less seasoned participants. Their role in the groups is to coach the other participants to the correct answers.

(d)Co-Facilitation.Ask the more seasoned participants to be ready to provide information and examples from the field when necessary.

3.Misdirected Training.If management is using the training program to address what is actually a specific employee’s performance issue, the participants who are already performing acceptably and do not need the training will be justifiably resentful.

In this case, to avoid teaching the participants what they already know and insulting their intelligence, replace any lectures with learning activities that will give either individual participants or groups an opportunity to provide the necessary content. Examples of these learning activities include: open questions, directed large group discussion, small group responses to questionnaires or worksheets, participant volunteers providing demonstrations, etc.

4.Inconvenient Training.When training is scheduled during the busiest work season or when the participants are overwhelmed with assignments that have pressing deadlines, the stress of spending time away from the office even for valued training can generate grudging negativity.

However, the reality is that the training has been scheduled and must be delivered. Sometimes, the best that trainers can do in these instances is to acknowledge the validity of the participants’ concerns, point out that they were not involved in the scheduling decision, offer to make the day as pleasant and useful as possible, and ask for the participants’ cooperation.

5.Controversial Training. When training is part of a change implementation strategy, it will often be controversial. If the participants had limited or no input into the change, have had their work lives disrupted by previous changes, or have had negative experience with this change at a different worksite, their reluctant attendance might not be unreasonable.

In this case, the participants may need time to vent their concerns and frustrations. There are at least three different activities that can provide structure to the venting process and limit the time it takes.

(a) Sealed Concerns.Give the participants five minutes to individually write down their concerns and place them into an envelope. Have them seal the envelope and put it away. In this manner, they can retain their concerns but they won’t have to focus on them during the training.

(b)Flipchart Recommendations.Have small table groups brainstorm recommendations to address their concerns and post them on a flipchart. The trainer can offer to collect and collate their recommendations and bring them back to management, with the caution that there is no guarantee that management will respond. This will give the participants a welcome sense of control, if only for the moment.

(c)Oral Relay.Ask half of the group to list negatives about the change and the other half to play devil’s advocate and list positives about the change. Have them stand in parallel lines facing each other. Go down the line, with each facing pair stating a negative and a positive. Plan this oral relay so that the very last person who speaks will identify a positive and close the relay on a constructive note.

Ideally, trainers should be aware of possible participant concerns prior to a training program and plan for them accordingly. However, unanticipated participant resistance to training may surprise even the best and most prepared trainers. In these situations, it is helpful for trainers to know what learning activities they can use to minimize or possibly even avoid the adverse impact of the participants’ negative attitudes.

May your learning be sweet.



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