Dealing With Challenging Training Delegates

Have you ever had to deal with challenging training delegates?

When delivering a training session, it would be wonderful to think that everyone wants to be there. However, as we all know, this is not always the case. Occasionally, you may have to not only share the learning, but also handle some challenging personalities.

Here are a few common examples of challenges, and some tactics you will find useful when dealing with them:

The monopoliser

This delegate is a big talker who will swallow up all the airtime if allowed. Every time you ask a question to the group, he or she will dive in and provide an extensive answer. They may just be very enthusiastic (there’s usually no sinister agenda here), but nobody else can get a word in! Tactics include:

  • Instead of asking a question to the group, ask a specific individual, or say “ok, we’re going to go round the room and everyone will have 1 minute to say what they think.”
  • Be polite but firm – “I’d like to hear another opinion. Some of the others haven’t had the chance to contribute yet” or “I know what you mean but we need to move on. We can discuss your idea during the lunch break.”
  • Peer pressure may aid you here. Fellow delegates may suggest to him/her that they reduce their vocal contributions!

The quiet one

This type of delegate is easy to overlook as he/she melts into the background and doesn’t annoy anyone. However, a trainer should seek the contribution of all delegates and will need to find a way to ‘draw out’ the quiet delegate:

  • Instead of asking questions to the group, start picking delegates and include the silent one. Make sure the first question is an easy one, to boost their confidence. A difficult question will make them retreat further into their shell if they cannot answer.
  • Use groups of 2 or 3 in discussion exercises – they will participate happily in the small group.
  • Some trainers make a point of socialising with the quiet participant at the break: “We haven’t really heard much from you yet. After the break, if you have ideas you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them.”

The hostile one

This delegate must be handled carefully:

  • Sometimes, when you ask delegates for their objectives at the start, someone will answer “because my boss told me to come!”. An effective response can be something along the lines of, “fair enough, I’ll make a deal with you – I’m going to run the course and I hope you’ll get something out of it. All I ask is that you keep an open mind. Ok?” This usually has the desired effect – the delegate doesn’t contribute much but they don’t cause trouble either.
  • During a break, try to approach them and say “You don’t seem to be enjoying the course – is everything ok? I wouldn’t want anyone to be here who doesn’t want to attend and if you need to leave then that’s fine; I will of course have to report back to your employer that you chose to leave.” This closing statement usually brings about a remarkable change in their attitude: “Oh no, that’s fine. I’ll stay.”
  • If they are being really negative, use the power of the group: ‘Can anyone see any positives to this idea?’ They usually can! 

The clown

The main characteristic of this delegate is an abundance of irritating humour. If the clown’s behaviour is hindering progress or annoying other delegates, it must stop:

  • Ask a serious question requiring a serious answer – show them they can be heard, but at a more sophisticated and adult level.
  • Compliment them when they make a worthwhile, serious contribution. Conversely, do not reward the attempts at humour.
  • Clowns tend to sit with their friends, who laugh at every comment, so split them up. Mix up the groups and put the clown with people they don’t know.

The chatty one

The chatty one continually speaks to their neighbour while the course is in progress.

  • You could stop talking, so the only voice to be heard is theirs. When they realise, ask if everything is ok? Perhaps you haven’t explained a point adequately and they are seeking clarity? They will usually say everything is ok and you can move on. But now they know you are onto them!
  • If they continue, tell them that you find it distracting and you’d like them to stop. You have a lot to cover and you need everyone to be listening.
  • If they persist, you may have to ask them to leave the course!

The one who goes off on a tangent

This delegate may have interesting things to say, but they usually belong in another training course.

  • Be polite but firm: “This is an interesting point, but could we try and get back on track? I think we’re straying away from the subject here and we need to move on.” As in other examples, you’d be happy to discuss the point further, but during break time!


We encounter challenging delegates from time to time; some may even be trying to wind you up! Use the techniques explained above to come across as calm, professional, concerned and courteous – you just want everyone to have a good training course! And remember: as tempting as it may seem, you cannot fight fire with fire!