Transforming Prisoners to Willing Participants to Transfer Training

Unfortunately, there is no single, easy answer for dealing with difficult questions from participants who feel and act like prisoners. Handled incorrectly, they can destroy learning and results for everyone involved.

But that is where your skill as a facilitator comes in to help transfer new skills and knowledge from the workshop to the job for each and every participant. Difficult participants are often kept from learning new skills because of their negative attitude. It is your job to try to shift them from negative to positive so that they can join the rest of your group and learn what you have to teach to increase their performance.

Here are four techniques that work:

  1. Humor. Is there a light-hearted way to lessen the tension? Challenging questions or resistant participants poison the atmosphere and make everyone uncomfortable. If humor is a tactic you are comfortable using, try it to create an environment for learning, practice, and reflection.
  1. Redirect the question. Rather than try to answer the difficult question yourself, acknowledge that it is a “good question” and then send it out to the class as a whole. You can say that you have some thoughts on the subject but would like to see what others think first. Ask the group for their ideas and suggestions. This way you can involve all participants in a discussion of the situation and possible solutions; this way you are not the target or the sole expert. Insights from the questioner’s colleagues may lead you all to a more satisfactory answer than you would have been able to find on your own.
  1. Get them on board. Do what you can to persuade prisoners to come to your side. Certainly, you will avoid confrontation. But you can go much further in trying to establish a cooperative relationship. Use positive reinforcement whenever they participate in an exercise or lend insights to a discussion. Invite their help in distributing handouts or scribing comments on a flipchart. Only as a last resort should you speak directly of their disruptive behavior…and then only in private.
  1. Try to uncover the reason for their resistance. Once you understand why a participant is acting like a prisoner, you have an opportunity to gain their support. Is the content beneath their perceived skill set?  Are they operating on overload and worried about falling further behind on the job? Was their commute especially nerve-wracking? Are they in danger of being let go? Have they just been chewed out by their boss? A little understanding goes a long way. And then you can try to show how the skills they will learn in the session will ultimately help them be more successful on the job.

Tips for Dealing with the 5 Most Common “Problem Children” in a Training Workshop

Training-WorkshopIt is a skill to artfully handle a problem participant in the classroom without disrupting the instructional design and experience for everyone else.

Any of us who have stood in front of a classroom or audience have experienced them…the “children” who demand extra attention, who seem intent on disrupting the program, who do not follow the basic rules of the facilitator, who complain about everything, and who act as “prisoners” rather than willing learners. Unless you have tactics to deal with them effectively, these problem children can completely undermine the purpose of the session and leave you humiliated, angry and ineffective.

Here are some tips on how to deal with these problems.

  1. The Ball Hog.  For the participant who will not leave the “stage,” remain polite but convey that others deserve an opportunity to share their thoughts too. Another tactic is to postpone the discussion by suggesting that you spend some time together during a break.
  1. The Hider.  When you encounter the polar opposite, someone who is reluctant to share their thoughts or to participate, set up exercises in pairs or small groups so they get involved with just a few people at a time. If you know their area of expertise, call upon them to share their special knowledge. You want to do whatever you can to give them opportunities to gain confidence and play a more active role in the session.
  1. The Fighter.  A frequent difficult “child” is the one who finds fault with everything you say. They love to confront and argue. It is critical that you not be drawn into a war of words. You are the one who must remain calm, stay composed and regain control. You can either agree to disagree, suggest that you continue the discussion over break, or invite the other participants to weigh in on the topic. Sometimes that is the most effective way to silence the offender.
  1. The Clown.  How about the comedian? This is the participant who seeks attention through inappropriate humor. Many will laugh out of embarrassment. It is up to you, however, to curtail these jokes. Redirect the class attention back to the topic at hand and encourage the clown to contribute serious thoughts to the discussion.
  1. The Whiner.  There is then the “child” who complains about everything…the food, the room temperature, the uncomfortable seats, the exercises, the requirement to attend. This is the classic “prisoner.” Somehow you need to shift his attitude from negative to positive. Sometimes the class as a whole will censure this behavior. More often, you will need to sort out the root of the problem…perhaps at break. If you cannot find an activity that encourages a more positive attitude and he is poisoning the entire class, you may need to ask him not to return in the afternoon.

To learn more visit


Roles: Instructional Design versus Training Delivery

Instructional Design

Different strokes for different folks.

Sometimes the designer of training also delivers the training.  While this can be very effective, the skills required for effective instructional design are quite different from the competencies required to be a successful facilitator.

In our experience, there are few who can accomplish both phases of training successfully.  Unless you have one person with the right expertise, use seasoned instructional designers to design and proven training facilitators to deliver.

Here are a few thoughts as to how to distinguish the two.

The Role of an Instructional Designer
It is up to the instructional designer to assess or understand performance gaps and determine what learning interventions would be most effective in closing them. The designer then develops the objectives, flow, sequencing, activities, simulations, and content.  During the project, designers often work closely with the facilitator and key stakeholders while making course corrections as needed. 

Ultimately, the instructional designer is charged with understanding and analyzing a performance problem and creating a customized solution to address it in a way that makes sense to the participants, their bosses, and the business.  Ideally, they are also able to perform effective training needs assessments, root cause analysis, process improvements, change management, targeted reinforcement, performance coaching, and the measurement of skill adoption and business impact.  Bottom-line: They need to be able to help select the right arrow form the quiver to get the desired results.

The best designers are analytical, logical, process and outcome-oriented, can match competencies to job requirements and desired performance results, and have a broad range of proven instructional tools and activities at their disposal.

The Role of a Facilitator
It is up to the facilitator to demonstrate, teach, consult and coach the targeted skills, behaviors and knowledge needed for improved performance. The facilitator should be able to build credibility quickly, engage participants, and articulate and align to the purpose of the program in a way that elicits their full-fledged involvement and cooperation. 

A good facilitator is able to encourage even the most reluctant and introverted learners to participate, has strong content and business knowledge, sets a challenging but realistic pace, clearly describes exercises, encourages discussion, builds creative tension to promote learning, and helps participants understand how to specifically apply the lessons learned. The best constantly improvise in the moment to meet the ever-changing needs of their audience while staying true to the over-arching learning objectives and desired business outcomes.

The most sought-after facilitators have been in their participants’ shoes and are typically outgoing, people-oriented, compelling, inspiring, trustworthy, authentic, flexible, articulate and sincere in their desire to help participants be more successful in practical ways that make sense for them and their unique business situation.

If you are asking one person to play both roles, you owe it to them and to the participants to make sure that they have the experience to succeed.

To learn more visit our Instructional Design Best Practices Blog.

Top 3 Warning Signs that Your Training is Irrelevant


Irrelevant means not connected with or relevant to something. Synonyms include insignificant, unimportant, and immaterial.

Training that has little connection or applicability to current business issues typically gets “rejected” by high performing organizations as irrelevant…and rightly so.  Sometimes the rejection is subtle and people do not apply what they have learned.  Sometimes the rejection is more pronounced when people do not attend programs, training budgets get cut, and training sessions get cancelled.  Regardless of how it happens, training that is not important and linked to the business strategy should get rejected in favor of more results-oriented investments.

While it may be obvious to business leaders that they should invest only in areas aligned with key strategies, we continue to find training organizations that press ahead with learning and development initiatives even though there is no clear link to business priorities.  This lack of alignment causes training, and often Human Resources, to be out of step with “the business.”  This lack of relevance creates managers who reject “training events” because they see no meaningful improvement in on-the-job performance or business results.  This lack of business value means that “training events” fall to the bottom of the list for participants.

If you are observing any of the following warning signs, chances are that your training approach could use a lift: 

  1. Not Enough Time
    “Managers do not allow time for their people to be taken away from their jobs to attend training.”
    This is a sure sign that your training initiative is not providing enough value in the eyes of the participants or their bosses.    Savvy leaders do not send people to training unless it has a direct impact on hitting their targets or developing and retaining their top talent. 
  1. Not Enough Support or Budget
    “We do not have enough executive support or budget to design a full learning solution, so this event is better than nothing.”
    You are treated as you behave.  Unless you treat your performance projects like a change initiative, you will create a negative and self-fulfilling prophecy about one-time training events—single events that do not impact the business or transfer skills back to the job. 
  1. Not Enough Marketing
    We need to do a better job marketing what we are offering to employees so we can fill these classes.”
    Regardless of company size, we have yet to see a good learning solution fail due to a lack of marketing.   Seats in training are filled not by publishing a snazzy class calendar but by training that makes a measurable difference. Before ramping up your marketing efforts, make sure that the solution is adequately funded by the business, properly supported by management, and designed to increase current or future on-the-job performance.

Without clear business alignment, training will continue to be one of the most ineffective business processes in your organization.