Tip #65: Managing Difficult Participants- The Talker or Know-It-All

Difficult Behavior: Has opinions on every subject and states them in a very authoritative manner. Other participants and the trainer find it hard to disagree with or to give help to this person.

What a Trainer Can Do:

In front of the group:

  • Thank the person and move on to the next subject.
  • Ask others to comment on his/her remarks.
  • Thank the person for his or her participation and indicate it is time to hear from others.
  • Tactfully ask him/her to give someone else a chance.
  • Use humor to invite others to speak up.
  • Deliberately turn to others and ask for their opinions.
  • Cut across his/her flow of talk with a summarizing statement.
  • Avoid looking at him/her.
  • Pretend you don’t hear the person and call on someone else.
  • Acknowledge the person’s expertise or experience and ask permission to call on them for specific examples.
  • Set rules: only the person who has the Koosh can speak, or there is a 2 minute limit per person, etc.

In private:

  • Ask the person to serve as a mentor to others in the session, only offering answers when requested.
  • Give the person an assignment to facilitate a small group discussion, with clear instructions intended to maximize listening and minimize talking.
  • Request that the person prepare a portion of the content or offer an example to support the content at a specified time in the session.
  • Provide constructive feedback about the impact of the behavior on the session, the participants, and/or the trainer.
  • Coach the person to select more constructive behavior.
  • Co-opt the person- ask for his or her assistance.

What a Trainer Should NOT Do:

  • Compete with the person.
  • Insult the person.
  • Stifle the person’s enthusiasm.
  • Get defensive.
  • Express anger.
  • Let the person control the discussion.

Real Life Example: I was asked to conduct a training program for a local chapter of a national organization. The person who hired me also invited the president of the national organization to attend. At the second break in the training, the person who hired me came to see me complaining that the national president was doing all of the talking in the small group- and that I should do something to stop this! I drew the president aside and, in private, thanked her for her enthusiastic participation. Then I noted that the other individuals at her table respected her opinion and so were not speaking up, just waiting to hear what she would have to say. I asked the president if she would be willing to co-facilitate with me by making sure that everyone at her table got a chance to speak. When they asked for her opinion, her facilitative role would be to draw theirs out instead. The president eagerly agreed.

For the rest of the day, the president would come up to me at every break to ask me how she was doing. It took all of my professional restraint to avoid responding that if she was keeping her mouth shut, she was doing an excellent job!

Commentary: When confronted with any difficult behavior, we need to be able to step back and objectively assess what might be the root cause of the behavior. Why would someone need to talk all the time?

Well, in the case of the president, she was simply responding to what she thought people expected of her. She was only too happy to help out in a different way when I gave her that option and asked for her assistance.

Sometimes, people keep talking because they don’t feel that their knowledge, experience, or expertise are appreciated. In that case, giving them a specific role in presenting the content, or providing examples that show the content in action, or asking them to serve as a mentor to others in the session or at their small table, can do wonders.

At times, people speak up because they are enthusiastically engaged in the subject and really want to share what they know. In this case, we want to thank them and acknowledge their participation in a positive way- and indicate that we want to make sure others can voice their opinions.

In all cases, we should address the individual and discuss the behavior with respect, so that s/he can retain his or her dignity.

We need to make a distinction between the Talker or Know-It-All, who is trying to add to the discussion, and the Fighter, who is trying to detract from and take issue with the topic or the trainer. We will look at ways to manage the Fighter next week.

Related Posts