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Dealing with Difficult Behaviour

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People sometimes behave in various difficult ways during workshops, meetings and training sessions. Dealing with them is a matter of judgement and experience, as are most training skills. The tips which follow are to be accepted, rejected, considered or tried out at your discretion.

Notice that this article is about Difficult Behaviour - not Difficult People or Problem People. This is not to say that there is no such things as difficult or problem people - it's just more productive for us to consider behaviour we have difficulty with.

The categorisation which follows is not really intended to be a set of boxes to classify people into, but to be a breakdown of problems into simple categories so that they can be considered.


Subject experts, if present in a discussion, can discourage others from making comments. Be aware of this possibility and counter it by trying to generate an atmosphere in which everyone is making a genuine effort to increase their understanding. Ensure that the less expert members have enough time to contribute their own ideas and experience and questions. Do not let the expert lecture too much.

As long as you do your best to clarify your own understanding and the understanding of the participants you shouldn't have much difficulty in handling the session, so don't look for problems that aren't really there Don't be too worried by disagreement either - it is a help, not a hindrance, and should be welcomed. Disagreement often results from different understandings of the topic. Your job is to clarify the understandings of the participants and bridge the gap between them. This benefits the whole group.


Presence of managers and subordinates can have a similar effect to that of an expert. Apply the same guidelines, although the situation may be more difficult to control. Because of this, consider carefully (when planning the lesson) whether it necessary to have managers and subordinates together. If it is, you will probably have to be much more directive than usual during the session.

Talkative People

Why are they talking a lot? Are they just naturally talkative? Do they think they know all the answers? Do they know all the answers?

If what they are saying is useful and relevant it may be a good idea to let them talk, within reason. Is it that they can't express themselves concisely? If so, you maybe able to get the gist of what they are saying and summarise it for them.

If they are going on and on, and it's not useful or to the point, interrupt, thank them for their contribution and direct a question to someone else. If you find it difficult to interrupt people remember that everyone has to draw breath. Watch carefully, and when they take a breath interrupt in a positive and definite manner. Don't hesitate.

Silent People

Don't assume that silent person haven't learnt anything. Don't assume that they are in agreement with what has been said. You haven't much to go on unless they say something - so use a direct question - and make it one which you think they will be able to answer. They may be shy, in which case it is best not to put too much pressure on them.

Encouragement may help: show you are interested in their views and that the group needs them. Support their views if they need support. If they are not participating, give them some work to do by asking them direct questions. The main thing is to find out why they are silent - and the main way of finding out is questioning.


Quibblers may have a minor point of that they want to concentrate on. If you are fairly sure of your ground you can ask the group whether they want to spend time on it - they will almost certainly not want to. Or you can suggest that this point is dealt with later. Write the point on a flip chart so that they can see that the point has been noted.

Persistent Questioners

Persistent questioners may be having trouble understanding what is going on, in which case you can patiently try to clarify things - but only up to a point: you must consider the needs of the whole group.


Objectors may just be feeling quarrelsome. If they object persistently try to pin down the objections by asking them to be more specific, or to give reasons for what the say, or to produce evidence for what they say. Keep saying, "Why?" e.g. "Why do you say that?"; "What evidence is there to support that view?" etc.

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