Crucial Skills®

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How do I handle participants who do not appear to be engaged in class?

Cricket BuchlerCricket Buchler is a Master Trainer.

Q How do I handle participants who do not appear to be engaged in class?


It’s so easy to get triggered by participant behavior in class, believing the way she’s acting is proof that she’s not taking the class seriously or that he doesn’t mind that his problem behavior is negatively impacting those around him. I’ve learned to give benefit of the doubt up front. Need some help? Here are some ideas to get you moving in that direction:

  • Not taking notes? They don’t have a pen. (This happens more than you think. Bring extra pens).
  • Refuses to engage? They feel worried about exposing a sensitive issue with colleagues.
  • Texting or leaving class a lot? Their managers could be pinging them with urgent issues they do not feel empowered to ignore.
  • Having side conversations? They’re talking about their insights and all the ideas that are sparking for them in an effort to really put the concepts into practical context.

Set expectations up front. Don’t underestimate the power of ground rules. Try asking the group for their help in building ground rules by saying early on to the group:

“Have you ever been in a class that disappointed you for some reason? Consider your pet peeves in a training environment and let’s see if we can avoid hitting those triggers for each other. What advice would you offer each other to ensure the highest quality learning environment? Let’s build some ground rules together.”

I always pre-write my ideas on a flipchart. Then after the group comes up with their ideas I show them my list and add any additional ideas they come up with to it. Mine looks something like this:

 Our Promise to Each Other

Maintain confidentiality

Return from breaks on time

Silence phones/ Turn off computers

Avoid texting under the table

Avoid side conversations

Take regular breaks (Ask, “If we pause every 1.5 hours, is it fair to ask that you reserve texting/emailing/calling for the breaks? Will that work?)

Have fun!

 After displaying the list of ideas I ask the group if they are willing to commit to this list of ideas saying, “Is there any reason any of you might have a hard time committing to these promises? Ok, then. So if we run into challenges with these, I’ll be sure to have a crucial conversation with you about that. And in fact, since this session is all about driving accountability, I’d like to challenge any of you to speak up to each other should anything be getting in the way of your learning. Ok? It’s a great way to practice what we’re learning in here!”

Once you have permission to have a crucial conversation with them later, it’s easier to approach any issues that might come up.

Speak Up Using Your Skills

  • “I noticed you haven’t been writing. Are you having a hard time coming up with ideas?”
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve returned late from the breaks this morning. Can you help me understand what’s going on?
  • (when addressing a side conversation in front of the whole class) “Sara and Kate… Questions? Thoughts to share?”
  • “I’m seeing that you’re on your phone in class. Something going on?”

Use the Power of Tools and Space

  • Display ground rules on the wall and refer back to it, checking back with the group to see how it’s going.
  • Change where people sit each day. Move them around for exercises to break up chatty groups.
  • Display the timer in your presentation software for breaks and tell them you’ll get started the second the timer dings. Always start on time.
  • Download VitalSmarts viral videos from YouTube and display them after breaks to entice people back on time.

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  1. How do I handle participants who do not appear ...

    […] ABOUT THE AUTHOR Cricket Buchler is a Master Trainer. READ MORE How do I handle participants who do not appear to be engaged in class? It’s so easy to get triggered by participant behavior in class…  […]

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