Analysing an emotional reaction during a training session

Training
BraunS / iStock

A few years ago, I was hired by a company to help them through a TUPE transfer. I was working with the staff representatives who would help in the consultation about the process.

This was a day-long session – I had worked with some of the people before and some were new to me. The youngest person there was a man called Chris – he was probably in his mid-twenties, while everyone else I would say was in their late 30s or older.

At one point during the workshop we were doing, he began to get very heated and raised his voice at me, and started to gesticulate as well. In the instant, I read this as anger. My initial feelings were first of helplessness, then anxiety and finally resentment – he was hijacking my workshop (that was my reaction in the moment, not the truth!). I shut him down.

I immediately knew I had made a big mistake; sometimes in my work I do have to get people to move on, so it’s not always a bad decision, but in this case it was. I could feel in my gut that there was something else going on.

Correcting the Course

At the end of the module, I called a break. I went and sat down with Chris and apologised for my earlier behaviour. I asked him if he wanted to speak more about what he was saying earlier.

Chris told me about his relationship with the company. The company had recruited him when he was 18, they had trained him, given him security. They had sought him out. And now, they were sending him away. All of a sudden I think we both understood the story in a new way. It wasn’t the TUPE transfer that was upsetting him. It was that he felt that the company didn’t want him anymore.

I think that the outcome was that Chris was now able to look at the change process for what it was, even though he might feel emotional about it, he could separate that out. The reason I can say this is because this is what Chris told me when I came back to do further training on a different change process (in the end, he hadn’t been TUPE’d out after all).

Chris now radiated confidence. He spoke quietly and slowly to the new staff reps about his experience and he helped me to contain their anxiety. He was absolutely brilliant. I was really proud of him.

3 Tips for Handling those Emotions

Tip 1: 
The first tip is that I ought to have looked to my own emotional response to help me understand what Chris was feeling. Remember, I felt helpless, anxious and resentful. Now think about Chris was going through, and what he would most likely be feeling... I would bet that he felt helpless, anxious and resentful about the impending change.
Tune in to the emotional reaction you're having: what exactly is it you are feeling? Does it help you put yourself in the other person's shoes?

Tip 2: 
Tip 2 follows on naturally from Tip 1.  Take a breath and don't react out loud. Concentrating on what you are feeling in the moment will allow you to do just that; but don't make my mistake and react to the other person emotionally, as you may be reading them wrong. Whether or not you  react in the moment, it's important to make sure the person knows that you are actually listening to them.
So: hold on, stay quiet, listen.

Tip 3: 
Either open it up to the group if it's a relevant conversation, or ask if you can pick it up at a break.
What do you do when you feel emotionally overwhelmed during a training session?
 

About Jasmine Gartner

Jasmine Gartner

Jasmine has lived in London since 2008, and has worked extensively all around the UK, speaking about and developing, designing and delivering training on employee engagement, information & consultation, cross cultural awareness, unconscious bias and diversity and inclusion.

She is the author of Employee Engagement: a little book of Big Ideas.

Replies

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
08th Feb 2017 12:05

Hi Jasmine
this is a really interesting story and i agree its always best to try to understand people's motivations for their apparent hostility or interruptions in order to help them deal with it better and also in case others in the room feel similarly. I would just add that i had to look up TUPE - I feel strongly that our industry need to talk in the language of business not the language of HR in order to really be seen as part of the part of the business. When jargon excludes people, HR professionals exclude themselves.

Thanks (2)
14th Feb 2017 15:00

Hi Juliet,

Lovely to hear you liked the piece!

I'm actually not in HR (I work with organisational culture) - TUPE is a business term/process here in the UK, but I do know what you mean about jargon and how it can work to exclude.

Thanks (1)
09th Feb 2017 07:55

Thank you for these insights Jasmine: a reminder of how important it is for us to reflect on our own performance in the classroom as well as that of those we are training.

Thanks (1)
to grimw_np
14th Feb 2017 15:02

Hi, yes, reflection is so important - and for those of us at the front of the room, a really valuable / exciting opportunity to learn something too.

Thanks (0)
avatar
14th Feb 2017 12:59

Really useful article thanks. I will definitely use all 3 tips. Tip 3 is particularly useful and could be applied in any situation.

Thanks (2)
to Helenwalker1
14th Feb 2017 15:09

Hi Helen,

I'm glad to hear this was useful.

I'm just very curious about people -I love to hear their ideas and experiences, and I think a workshop is a perfect place to explore those ideas.

I'd be happy to hear how these tips work for you!

Thanks (1)
avatar
03rd Mar 2017 07:39

I had a similar experience many years ago. Since then I have adopted a mantra which is that "there is no such thing as problem people, just people with problems" and I respond to them in this way. I hold out the possibility that their problem IS me and go into problem solving mode staying as detached and objective as possible. This seems to have a great effect in that this is not the response they are expecting and so usually open up as to what it is (I am doing/not doing) that is affecting them.

Thanks (1)
to perspec1
03rd Mar 2017 22:18

I know what you mean: but I don't tend to think the problem is me, I think it's neither of us - so then we're just people talking about challenges!

Thanks (0)
avatar
to Jasmine Gartner
06th Mar 2017 07:30

I don't believe the problem is me in most cases either, I hold out the prospect that the participant might have a problem with me for some reason I have not noticed.

Thanks (1)
avatar
22nd Jan 2018 08:54

Hi Jasmine. I am a trainer in my company so I work directly with the staff employed by us. Over the years, I've had various reactions to some of the sessions I've taught and experience has shown me, that it is usually the topics that are quite emotive that can raise things in people that even they may not know existed in themselves! I've had staff confront me during sessions, after sessions, and even breakdown in tears whilst looking at areas such as our own values etc. In these situations, I make sure that I take regular breaks, offer one to one support to those that appear affected and then move on to another topic if needed. I've been close to abandoning a session on one occasion, but then I'm not sure that this would always help either. I work in the care industry, and you never really know what a person's own history is like until you begin to get them to discuss certain areas. It is hard to try and keep the flow of the group together, whilst also making sure that you are maintaining the well-being of individual staff (as not all of the other delegates appreciate people crying around them).
Thank you for the tips.....they will definitely come in useful!

Thanks (1)
to Claire Ashraf
22nd Jan 2018 16:48

Hi Claire,
I agree - it is amazing how emotions well up when we least expect them. I think there's an unspoken rule that we should keep our emotions out of the workplace, and so when there's an opportunity to share those feelings, they sometimes erupt. Sometimes I just back off a little and let the group kick in and take care of their fellow employee - when it works, it's a lovely thing to see.

Thanks (0)