Dealing with tricky situations

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15. Dealing with tricky situations

Running out of time? How to save time

Facilitators need to learn to be flexible and responsive to every group they work with. If you facilitate the same course 10 times you will find that each time it is quite different because each group will be different. Participants will have a different set of interests, different strengths and weaknesses and just the difference in composition or challenges to group cohesion will strongly affect the way a group reacts to the material you are presenting.

It is easy for a course to go off track in terms of timing and emphasis. Some parts will inevitably take longer than planned. Other parts you may choose to skip through due to a variety of reasons. Experienced facilitators and trainers become very used to making quick decisions about timing in response to a particular group. To some it comes naturally. To others it takes lots of practice.

As you get more experience as a facilitator you will become more comfortable with the process of responding sensitively to your particular group of participants. You will spend more and more time listening and reacting to your participants, and as a result you will be constantly judging whether to push forward with the course program or dwell on particular points which are proving to be extremely beneficial, significant or revealing. You will be finely tweaking and adjusting activities and material throughout the course.

For facilitators with less experience however it is quite common to get seriously behind in the program and their first instinct will be to panic or make some pretty desperate decisions about what material to cut and what to keep. Here are few suggestions to help those facilitators through the difficult moments when they realise that they just 'aren't going to make it' because they are running out of time.

Most importantly

  • Look at the training guide and see if there is any specific advice about what is 'less important' or perhaps background material which may be cut.
  • Prepare

Discussion activity

  • Form more groups with fewer people

Reporting activity

  • Form fewer groups with more people – this leads to fewer reports
  • Select just the best or key ideas to report on
  • Have a list prepared and ask if there are any differences with what the groups thought of

Difficult behaviour? How to deal with it

A training facilitator is keeping a fine balance between ensuring good participation from everyone, maintaining good rapport with the group and keeping good order for the benefit of everyone. A lazy trainer will let difficult behaviours continue until they become real problems and affect the quality of the course. The best way to deal with problems are to deal with them BEFORE they arise (by having the group set some agreed behavioural guidelines, or by explaining from the outset some of the threats to a successful course), or as soon as they occur (by managing activities, group work and room set up discreetly; using good body language; or speaking to the person in the group or in the break)

Too little participation or unresponsive

Possible causes

  • Doesn’t want to be in the course
  • Doesn’t understand the material
  • Worried that he will be judged or tested.
  • Learns better by listening rather than contributing
  • Knows the material and is bored
  • Simply has nothing to say.
  • Not culturally appropriate to ask questions of the trainer.

Possible approaches

  • Make regular eye contact whilst smiling and looking reassuring
  • Asking “and Julie, what do you think about this?”
  • Getting people to share the reporting responsibility in a group so that everyone gets a turn.

Too much participation by one person

Possible causes

  • Needs to be the centre of attention or show off
  • Knows the material and is bored by the pace of the training
  • Wants to be seen as the expert and different from the other participants

Possible approaches

  • Use subtle body language and eye contact to carefully cut the person out of your line of sight for a while
  • Acknowledge their expertise
  • Appeal to other participants by saying, “Come on, don’t let Yuli do all the work.”
  • Give the person a coaching role or ask them to facilitate a small group discussion.

Challenges to the facilitator

Possible approaches

  • Be prepared to back up what you say with evidence but don’t get into an argument
  • Say you will check up on the question raised and come back to the class with clear answers
  • Agree to disagree and move on
  • Speak to the person during the break.

Private conversations

Possible approaches

  • manage activities, group work and room set up more carefully but discreetly
  • use good body language to gently show displeasure
  • speak to the person in the group or in the break


Possible approaches

  • Focus on the serious points they make
  • Smile and probe further (with serious intent)
  • Don’t get into a competition which will distract every one
  • Give them a role play where possible so that they get the opportunity to ‘perform’

Resentful or disengaged behaviour

Possible approaches

  • Treat the person like everyone else and don’t pay any particular attention to the miserable behaviour.
  • Avoid giving them an opportunity to talk about their discontent more than once
  • Speak to the person in the break and see if you can find out why they are so negative
  • Stressing the value of the course and its content, its relevance and importance