There is no such thing as a difficult delegate

Last week I was running a customer service workshop in London with a new colleague. Although she had worked with the participants before in a coaching role, she is relatively new to the joys of Brain Friendly Learning so was keenly observing what was going on.

It was a highly interactive session with limited input from me which meant lots of time to observe the group, manage their state and challenge their thinking.

At the end of the session we did a quick wrap up with everyone sharing their experiences of poor customer service and how they would improve it having been on the session.

Once they had all left she turned to me and said:

How did you get Andy (name changed) to participate in that session?”

I asked her what she meant.

She said that he “never participates in any of the training we do but today he was engaged and contributing to the group’s learning”.

I had to think for a minute to place who Andy was but when I did I recalled a quiet independent man who was thoughtful with his words and while he didn’t get too involved with the more active parts of the session, he had a lot to offer the discussion sections.

My colleague had him categorised as a “difficult delegate” .

This never occurred to me.

There are many reasons for delegates to appear to be disengaged but being “difficult” isn’t usually one of them.

The programme had been designed by Ally and we had spent some time the week before running through the processes we were using and the content so I was confident that during the course of the day we had a programme that would appeal to all learning styles at various times.

I was happy that if someone like Andy didn’t enjoy the active bits, he would be OK during the discussion and reflection stages. And I was sure that if someone loved the active sections, they would tolerate the reflection stages without any problems.

My colleague’s language intrigued me as well.

“How did I get Andy to participate?”

I didn’t

I just made it possible for Andy to join in during the bits he was comfortable with and observe during the bits he was less comfortable with. This did not diminish his learning. Indeed had I pressured him to join in I may have damaged his learning and then he really would have disengaged.

While I am sure we all have “difficult delegates” from time to time there is usually a good reason. Maybe they have been sent on an inappropriate programme (see When F1 drivers need driving lessons for more on this) or maybe we haven’t designed a session that fully integrates the learning styles of all our delegates

So here is our call to action:

Consider a time in the past when you’ve had a difficult delegate – are you sure it was them being difficult or did the session design make it difficult for them to learn?

reflective hand image by FotoRita [Allstar maniac]
frustrated image by Zach Klein

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  1. Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    And it might also be interesting to explore what was going one with Andy in the “before” training. What was it that “got his goat” and made him behave in “difficult” ways. What was different?


  2. Posted February 15, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    There is such a thing – though thankfully very rare!

    About two years ago, I started a session of around 15 clients with the traditional ’round robbin’ of who they were and why they were here. The first three clients, by rote, each gave the same answer…

    “Council policy. Every year I’ve to do 6 days training. Last year I did none, so this year I’ve to do 12. So far, you’re day number 2.”

    After that they folded their arms and spoke not a word, not even during the lunch break!


    • Paul
      Posted February 16, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Oh Simon,

      What a horrible experience. AND I think I can sympathise with them.

      It’s so sad that organisations still do this to their people and no great surprise when the employees push back.

      The problem for people like us is we get to manage the result.

      Thanks for sharing your story.


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