Guila Muir

Developing trainers, presenters and facilitators to make a difference

Difficult People Versus Difficult Dynamics

by Guila Muir

I have a message for trainers, facilitators and presenters. I know that you sometimes stay awake at night worrying about how to respond if an audience member challenges you, if participants lock horns, or when a meeting or training session gets just plain thorny.

To address your insomnia, you may have searched for guidance by Googling “dealing with difficult people.” By doing so, you discover a veritable stew of tips, techniques, training programs, books, and articles. And you’ll especially discover labels. Experts in the “difficult people” business love labels. Typically they offer labels such as these:

  • The Know-It-All
  • The Show-Off
  • The Rambler

Then they prescribe behaviors to deal with each label. Unfortunately, all situations are different, so prescriptions only go so far. Plus, there is a danger in labeling people. You may cease seeing participants as living, breathing, multi-dimensional human beings.

We Are All “Difficult People”

To be a person is to be difficult. “Difficult people” are often just regular people responding to difficult dynamics. Difficult dynamics can include:

  • Organizational change
  • Bad room set-up or temperature control
  • Mandatory attendance
  • Ambiguity about how the event will benefit the individual
  • Personal challenges, such as hunger and low blood sugar.

What trainers, facilitators and presenters need to know is:

  • You can’t fix people.
  • You can reduce difficult dynamics, thus lowering the risk of reactive behavior.

3 Ways to Reduce Difficult Dynamics

You may have little control over organizational change or mandatory attendance. However, these steps will address a broad spectrum of difficult dynamics:

1. Set Up the Room for the Outcome You Desire
Do you want participant engagement, interaction, and accountability? Then don’t use classroom or theater style seating. Seat people in groups of 5-6 so that they communicate with each other, not just with you. It’s harder for participants to withdraw or act out when they are eyeball-to-eyeball with others.

2. Clarify the Benefts and State Clear Expectations
You MUST be able to express on why this topic is important to the participants and how it will benefit them. Then clearly state how the day is structured and what behaviors you expect.

3. Model both Authoritative and Cooperative Behaviors
Create and maintain an accepting environment. Encourage people to express themselves and to ask questions. Simultaneously, set and hold limits. One example might be to say “for the sake of time, and to make sure that everyone has at least one opportunity to ask a question, please limit your questions to one per person.”

Don’t stoop to labeling human beings in the name of achieving smooth dynamics. Ultimately, this strategy will backfire. Instead, become more aware of your own behavior, and prevent difficult dynamics before they occur.

Watch for next month’s article: How to Deal Effectively With Questions

Learn about Guila Muir’s Presentation Skills Workshops.

Guila Muir is a premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills. Find out how she can help transform you from a boring expert to a great presenter:


2 Responses to “Difficult People Versus Difficult Dynamics”

  1. Stevelewsf says:

    thanks for this perspective Guila! 

  2. Guila says:

    Steve, great to hear from you! Thanks for your note.

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