Dealing with ‘difficult’ participants
While it is easy to dismiss certain people as being naturally ‘difficult’ this is not a helpful approach. By considering the needs of ‘difficult’ participants you can uncover their motivations and provide them with a role in the process which meets these needs.
Here is a model with four different participant types, categorised on whether they are mainly concerned with the process or the content and whether or not they are primarily reactive or proactive in style. Each participant type can play positive or negative roles depending on how you tap into their needs:
Concern: Content/Style: Reactive
Needs from you: Respect, demonstrable results, professionalism / To feel safe, to be listened to.
Negative role: Critic
Positive role: Observer
Concern: Content/ Style: Proactive
Needs from you: Respect, demonstrable results, professionalism / Admiration, to command attention.
Negative role: Bully
Positive role: Leader
Concern: Process / Style: Reactive
Needs from you: To be liked and needed, openness to change, opportunities for discussion/ To feel safe, to be listened to.
Negative role: Martyr
Positive role: Follower
Concern: Process/ Style: Proactive
Needs from you: To be liked and needed, openness to change, opportunities for discussion/ Admiration, to command attention.
Negative role: Show-off
Positive role: Performer
There will be times when you ask a question and nothing happens. Early on in the process sit is often a sign that the participants still need to get to know each other. In more advanced stages of a process it can actually be an encouraging sign that you are getting to grips with the core issues. The first rule is not to panic. Calmly waiting ten seconds is often a good policy –usually someone will come to your rescue. If not avoid the temptation to answer the question for the participants. Instead rephrase the question or break into smaller groups to discuss the issue.
Challenges to your authority
The role of the neutral facilitator can be difficult to get right. When your neutrality is questioned it is to avoid becoming defensive. Asking clarifying open questions can be a good way to get to grips with exactly what is bothering the person. Once you have established what their issue is you can take to the whole group to see if there is widespread agreement on that issue. If no one agrees with them this sends a strong message to your critic. If however their concerns are widely shared amongst your participants then it is just as well that you found out about it. In these cases it is worth placing the ball in their court and asking them what they need to see to convince them of your neutrality.