In a recent conversation with friend and fellow trainer one of the questions that came up was, “Why is it that as trainers we tend to focus on the one or two negative people in the room instead of all the people in the room who appear to be engaged, interested and happy to be there?”
The people we are talking about are the ones sitting as far back in the room as humanly possible. Their arms are folded, they are slouched in their chair, there is a scowl on their face, and they have that look that says, “I dare you to teach me.” They may even mumble comments about how it is “bullshit” that they have to be there. There are usually also one or two hang-arounds who will do their best to sit beside this person and mimic their body language and comments.
These attitudes have usually developed over time. Some of them have been burned in training before when they were embarrassed or belittled by an instructor or set up to fail in a scenario. Some have been sent to the class as a punitive measure for something they did wrong, or the boss thinks they did wrong. Some have run into the suck factor for years and never had anyone teach them to “Embrace the Suck”. For some it is just a facade they put up to help keep up their reputation as a bad ass and a rebel. Regardless of how they developed this attitude they are now sitting in your class and you have locked onto them.
It struck me as we were talking about this issue that the answer to this age old question about why we tend to focus on them is Evolution. As humans we are hard wired to be continually looking for danger and threats. While those people we perceive as negative, unhappy to be there and resistant to our message likely don’t pose a physical threat to us we still perceive them as a threat.
We perceive them as a threat to:
- The success of the class.
- Our message being positively received by others in the class.
- The flow of the class when they continually challenge you or make negative comments during the class.
- Our patience.
- Our ego when they blast us and the class in their evaluations.
The way to minimize the threat is not to lock on to them and try to crush them at the first opportunity. It is to understand that we have all been there and been “that guy or gal” at times in our lives. Once you acknowledge them and appreciate the fact that at least they are at training then you can focus your energy on delivering a fun, engaging, challenging and informative training session. Include them in the group activities and discussions. Acknowledge their contributions as you would with everyone else in the class. If you deliver great training, and do not single them out, they may just surprise you and become engaged learners.
If they show up with a chip on their shoulder, and you show up with a chip on your shoulder it will not turn out well for anyone.
Learning is the responsibility of the participants in the class. Your responsibility is to provide a safe, engaging learning environment and deliver the material in a manner that is most conducive to learning and retention.
The reality is that if a participant refuses to learn the real threat is to them. The fact they tuned out and failed to learn the material may cost them down the road.
A word of warning. Be cautious with your perceptions, and prejudgements of people in the class. There are times where I, like every other trainer who prejudged, have been flat out wrong.
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