No Awkward Delegates – Just Inflexible Facilitators

When I started as a trainer 22 years ago in only my third ever workshop (with 12 electricity meter fixers, readers and inspectors) a scowling man entered the room.

Everyone gave him space as though he was the wild west’s most wanted cowboy and as he slammed his fist on the table he shouted,

“What a complete bloody waste of time this is”!

He directed his accusation at me at the top of the room and everyone else stared waiting to see my reaction.

Two days later, by the end of the programme the gunslinger had already quietly apologised and confided, “I’m sorry, I hadn’t realised there’s was so much to learn”.

Delegate ‘Attitude’

I still meet plenty of trainers who believe certain delegates are just plain rude or have ‘an attitude’ – Two statements that have never been my experience.

Not because I don’t encounter challenging delegates. I have trained literally thousands of Police Officers who by their very culture are some of the most challenging and challenged delegates bar any industry. What you might have to wade through behaviour wise in a Police learning room is at least double than elsewhere.

Some trainers use these judgments because they feel uncomfortable and knocked-off their stride. Instead of learning how to stay centred and aware of what might be the underlying problem sitting beneath the behaviour, they collapse into their discomfort, judgment and blame.

This was put to the test only last month in which a delegate sat in a permanent dissociated state, staring at a fixed point in the distance, during a three-hour workshop on empathic and emotional connection (ironically)

In facilitation I ask lots of open questions as well as creating an environment for people to relax and take responsibility for their own involvement that also honours their preferred learning style.

The man in question – I later found out he was an ex-police officer – offered me eye contact twice and didn’t want to answer any questions posed. When he entered the room before the start and found himself the only delegate to have arrived, he made a quick, slightly odd sounding reason to leave and immediately exited. Re-emerging only when there were others around him.

I know from my therapy background there are many reasons why and how a person might dissociate. Many of the other delegates found it challenging but here’s the big question – Is he the problem?

Instead of thinking what is wrong with you its serves us more to think what happened to you?

Underneath the presenting problem

There are always hidden reasons that drive our behaviour and sometimes if you can have enough time with someone they will open to at least hint at what the real issue is.

Why would a middle aged man want to avoid eye contact, discussion, new learning and social participation with everyone in the room that day? There are so many possible and legitimate possibilities. From the facilitator, curios openness is required.


  • He’d been told the training was a punishment for him
  • He has a belief the training is a threat to his competency
  • Maybe he has a well-hidden learning disorder or
  • The subject matter (empathy and emotions) were a trigger towards a long-held trauma.

The list is endless but of course finding the depth of the real issue in a group scenario  was unlikely to happen.

What serves us?

Many of the other delegates found his behaviour off-putting. After he had left early (pre-arranged) I showed them how to utilise centering skills so anytime their performance or focus is getting squeezed, triggered or stressed they could recover with elegance and come back into the zone again.

What never serves me is getting caught in inner blame towards another. That’s the beginning of the end for me as a facilitator.

What does serve me is the following checklist of insights and skills to handle challenging delegates

  • By remembering, there’s no such thing as a challenging delegate just inflexible trainers
  • Centering skills bring out the best in my performance and help me find my way through tough delegates
  • Curiosity is far more powerful than judgment
  • If I hear myself blaming a delegate I know I have become lost in my own uncomfortable emotions and stories
  • If I discover the truth behind a situation I walk away enriched by another really useful experience.

If you would like to discuss more about how we create outstanding facilitators contact me at

  • Quote-background

    A scowling man entered the room. Everyone gave him space as though he was the wild west's most wanted cowboy and as he slammed his fist on the table he shouted, “What a complete bloody waste of time this is”!

    Glenn Bracey,
    Future Vision Training Ltd,
    22nd February 2016


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