Tip #225: Debunking Myths About Resistant Participants

lthough it would be nice if all participants entered every class with a sincere and enthusiastic desire to learn, we know that is not always going to be the case. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how participants feel about the class when they first arrive. Our job is to make them want to come back after the break.

How do we accomplish this?

First, we treat them with respect. They have a right to their feelings.

We don’t talk down to them or tell them that they should feel what they are feeling. We welcome them and make them feel comfortable with as positive a learning environment as we can create. We focus on practical application of necessary skills and we ensure that all participants are set up for success by chunking new learning into manageable amounts and using a variety of learning activities that meet the needs of different learning styles.

Second, we accept them where they are, emotionally. Their concerns may be very valid.

For example, they may feel that the content of the training is unnecessary. If that is the case, giving them an activity in which they can vent their frustrations in a controlled and time-limited fashion may be necessary. We can use an oral relay, in which one half of the group takes turns identifying a positive aspect (to a change, for example) and the other half takes turns identifying a negative aspect. Just make sure you have them end on a positive note!

Another option is to have small groups post pros and cons on a flipchart and then report them out. A third option is to use a questionnaire that begins with a negative statement. For example, “This change is a royal waste of time.”Agree or disagree? Then lead a discussion of answers on both sides.

The point is to get the participants’ concerns out in the open, so they don’t create an invisible barrier to the learning that needs to occur.

Another reason they may resist the training is that they feel that they already know what is going to be covered in the class. In this case, have participants self identify in terms of their years on the job. Then ask those who have been there the longest to serve as co-facilitators. This means that they will provide examples of real on-the-job situations when necessary- or help to coach less experienced participants at their tables to the correct answers. This recognition and validation of their expertise can go a long way in making them feel valued and important, and ultimately want to be there to share their expertise.

Third, we give them an opportunity to discover the value of the training for themselves.

We might do this by posing a focus question: “How will this change-be helpful to you? Or øenable you to better meet the needs of your customers?”Let them come up with the answers and talk themselves and their co-participants into the idea.

Have them do markups, where they highlight two or three of the learning objectives for the class that they consider most important for themselves.

Fourth, sometimes we have to remind them not to “kill”the messenger, because we may not have initiated the change to which they object. Point out that our job is to help them navigate that change as effectively as possible.

Quite honestly, it is a cop out for a trainer to ever say: “I couldn’t teach them anything, because they didn’t want to be there.”

If we treat them with respect, create a positive learning environment, recognize their concerns, enable them to discover the value of the training from their own perspective, validate their expertise, and set them up for success, it is much more likely that they will want to come back after the break!

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