Learning Consultant & Coach Zostera Ltd
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Dealing with Difficult Delegates: Non-Participation

28th Jan 2014
Learning Consultant & Coach Zostera Ltd
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Last week whilst facilitating a session for a client something happened that hasn't happened in years - a group of 4 delegates refused to present back to the wider group. Not a single one of them was prepared to get up and talk in front of the wider group (another 10 people).

This exercise was the last one of the day.  Delegates were split into small groups and asked to deliver a 2 minute motivational briefing to the wider group.  The response of the group came completely out of the blue.  Throughout the day they had all engaged as individuals in both the small group work and the whole group plenary discussions.  I know they had a briefing prepared too as I'd observed some of their discussions during the preparation time.

After a couple of seconds of being taken-a-back, I knew I was going to have to take a different tact as no-one was going to volunteer to stand up and do it.

The way I saw it, I had two options:

1.  To push the issue and insist that someone from the group delivers the prepared briefing.  It was after-all a core part of the day's programme and something the individuals are expected to do back in their posts.

2.  To take a different tact and try to understand why they didn't want to participate.

In this situation, I opted for option 2.  We were so close to the end of the day and I knew taking option one would sour the learning experience not only for those four delegates but in all likelihood for the rest of the group too. Besides, I was genuinely interested in what the issue was.

Consequently my response to the lack of volunteers went along the lines of "okay, well, we're all adults here, and I'm not going to make anyone do anything that they are not comfortable with.  I am interested though in understanding why people are reluctant to undertake a task which they are required to do as part of their role".

And so started an exploratory discussion involving the whole group.  It took much longer than the two minute presentation would but delegates went away with an understanding of what was holding them back and some techniques to help them work outside their comfort zone in the future.

I think I made the right facilitation choice in this situation, but what do you think?  Would you have done the same or different?  And why?

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