Trainer's Edge

“Trainer’s Edge” explores and discusses the issues, trends, tips and techniques to advance the skill of dynamic training. Check out the postings below.

Feb 3 2012

Managing Prisoners

In the blog “Who Comes to Your Workshops” I identified three kinds of workshop attendees; participants, passives and prisoners. I left the reader with two questions, one of which we’ll address in this blog. How do you manage the prisoners?


A chief attribute of a workshop prisoner is their negative energy. There are many reasons for this negativity, some justifiable while others may include a lack of maturity. Whatever the reason, the reality is that the trainer must put the group, not the prisoner, as their top concern. Is the prisoner’s behavior impacting the group – if so, you’re asked to intervene indirectly or directly to maintain group health and growth.

In our coping comments below, keep in mind the ‘bushfire’ concept. Responding early to disruptive prisoner allows you to keep the status of behavior at a bushfire level. Letting the prisoner behavior go may well exacerbate the situation and soon you have a forest fire on your hands. It’s much easier to be proactive in a bushfire than reactive in a forest fire.

And secondly, your strategies to manage and lead the prisoner can be seen at two levels; diffuse and depersonalize.

Diffuse strategies

Move from indirect to direct

Move from a preventive to a more corrective approach, from a responsive to an assertive style. The responsive approach usually allows the trainer to make a connection with the learner.

Avoid arguments – acknowledge problems

Avoid getting caught up in opposing positions. Instead, hear the problem. Get to the bottom of things by asking. You validate the person and allow yourself the opportunity to gain an empathetic attitude. Be hard on the problem but soft on the personalities involved. Acknowledgement does not imply agreement, rather validity of what a person is experiencing. Acknowledgement also reduces the risk of making false assumptions.

Work one on one

Do not give the prisoner a stage. Diffuse any tendency to upstage by removing yourself and the prisoner from the room to talk in private or to speak during breaks. The one on one approach allows the prisoner the freedom to respond without reprisal from other learners.

Refer to ground rules

During a workshop opening ensure you provide or generate workshop guidelines. Then when speaking with a prisoner, you’re being proactive, not reactive, when reference is made to group standards. Sometimes, that is all that is needed.

4 on 1

In some cases, linking a prisoner with participants in a subgroup setting may diffuse the resistance or resentment the prisoner is feeling. Be careful that the linking is not done at the expense of the participants. Monitor subgroups with prisoners and intervene as needed.

Seek a partnership

When working with prisoners, be collaborative, not competitive. Seek a learning partnership. Model the very action you want from them such as cooperation, a positive attitude, lots of patience and good listening ability. To seek a partnership sets up conductions for a prisoner to save face while looking for more constructive ways to behave.

Challenges are Gifts too

Sometimes the workshop experience can be the best thing for a prisoner. You’re your patience and perseverance, prisoners may park their luggage and become more engaged with other participants and the learning.

But whether or not you’re able to help a prisoner, don’t forget that the challenges you’ve faced are ultimately gifts in disguise. As you look back on difficult training moments, as yourself, “So what did I do well and what would I change?” A question like this helps you frame the experience in a way that promotes insight into yourself and develops your coping strategies.


Trainers are much more than subject matter experts.
They are also people-matter specialists.

Trainer's Edge

Jan 11 2012

Managing Passives

In the blog “Who Comes to Your Workshops”, I identified three kinds of workshop attendees; participants, passives and prisoners. I left the reader with a few questions, one of which was; "How do you manage the passives in a workshop?:


These folk are pleasant but not in the workshop mode. They view the workshop as time to kick back, relax and enjoy themselves. They are non-committal, arriving with low expectations yet with a pleasant attitude. As a trainer, your primary challenge is one of motivation.

Here are some tips and techniques to consider in your attempt to invite passives to become participants.

Connect with work

In advance, conduct an audience audit so that you are aware of attendees work opportunities and responsibilities. Then early in the workshop, address linkages between workshop content and workload. Promote workshop benefits as well.


Use subgroups where possible and place the passive with a group of participants. The energy and involvement of participants may encourage the passive to ‘join in’.

Shared responsibility

In a non-threatening way, appoint passives as leaders of their subgroups. Putting them in positions of responsibility can help them become more involved and interactive.

Group Questions

Instead of relying on individuals to ask questions, have subgroups generate two to three questions to be addressed in a Q & A session. By placing the onus on the subgroup, you draw out the passives and encourage them to contribute their queries – again in a non-threatening way.

What other techniques or approaches have you used?

Trainer's Edge

Jan 11 2012

Who comes to your workshops?

It may be an oversimplification, yet I have found thinking of learners as one of 3 types can be useful in helping facilitate a more productive and positive experience for the group.


These people come to your workshops with well-defined intentions, a willingness to learn and the desire to support others in their learning quest. They contribute positive energy to the workshop, manage themselves well and focus on both their learning needs and the learning needs of others. They are focused, active and enjoy a variety of workshop activities. Their wisdom and experience will bring new insights that add much value to the product and process of the workshop.


If passive people were cars, they’d be stuck in neutral. Usually they are pleasant people who pose a motivational rather than a management issue to the trainer. They come with lower expectations and prefer to play the role of observer. They are the vacationers. Their lower energy is not a burden to the group but it can be frustrating to a trainer. If you could get inside their heads you might hear; “Don’t bug me, just let me enjoy the class with my colleagues. Yes it’s true I won’t be contributing much thinking or ideas to the class but I won’t create problems for you. If I get one or two ideas from the workshop, that will be fine.”


These folks will drain energy from you and the group. Prisoners will surface at workshops for many reasons; mandatory training, low staff morale, they feel they’re the subject matter expert, personal crises, poor timing, overworked, difficulty finding the training location, certain other people in attendance, and so on. Whatever the reason, the negative luggage they bring can pose a challenge to both the trainer and other attendees. Some prisoners are more private by nature so they usually restrict their influence to the subgroup. Other prisoners are more public and can become very visible to the whole group.

Here’s a summary chart on the three types of workshop attendees





Attitude to workshop



Hesitant to resistant

Want from other learners?




Attitude to workshop events




Manage individual needs by




Contributions to group




Trainer deals with them





Two questions might emerge for you at this point.

How does one proactively manage the different types of learners?

What about the status of the trainer? How do you keep yourself as a ‘participant’?

For responses to these questions, refer to 3 blogs:

“Managing Passives”

“Managing Prisoners”

“Manage Your Status”

Trainer's Edge

Nov 10 2011

Subgroup size?

User Rating: / 1

What is the best subgroup size?

As a workshop leader, you'll find yourself dividing the group into working subgroups for specific exercises. Or you may want to use table seating arrangements with people in small subgroups for the entire workshop. What size of subgroup works best?

In my experience, the ideal size for a subgroup is four to five people. With this size, you tend to encourage maximum involvement. With subgroups of six or more, it is easier for one or more participants to opt out of the discussion or activity. People will also find it easier to engage in sidebar conversations.

In general, I consider triads or trios to be the minimum size for a subgroup. If the learners are comfortable with one another, these smaller subgroups can work well. I often use triads when working with groups that have less than twenty people. However, the risk with the triad size is that it only takes one person to make a group malfunction. Diads or pairs can work only if you’ve got considerable trust and comfort.

Trainer's Edge

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