People say I’m difficult and sometimes that’s a badge of honour.

Bill Murray (*1950)
US actor and comedian

Humans are different, but no one is difficult just he or she acts as expected from you.
Humans are different, but no one is difficult just he or she acts as expected from you.

All humans are equal is the mantra. But humans are not equal: some are tall, others short, some fat, some thin. One person might be very intelligent, another an excellent sportsman. What liberals mean is that all should have the same rights, but also equal opportunities, which everyone can (and should) use according to their different needs and interests.

In workshop practice this liberal credo stands for the equal right to participate and an understanding of the different needs each individual will have. It is the noble task of any moderator to create the environment where this is not only possible, but also fulfilled. In other words, the skills of the moderator are required to moderate between different types of humans: one has to be calmed down, the other encouraged to speak, the third reminded to focus etc. So, how is difficult? Does he or she really disturb? Here are some recommendation for dealing with difficult participants.

Types of difficult participants

Some personalities need special attention. Interestingly, you often find the same type all over the world. And most likely you came across those persons already – be it as a facilitator or a participant.

ChallengerChallenges everything.
Positive DriverSees everything in a positive light, but contributes a lot.
Mr. Know it allWants to contribute and comment on everything.
TalkativeWants to talk for the sake of talking.
TimidDoesn’t come out, refuses games.
InterviewerHas a question to everything.
Mr. I don’t careDoesn’t participate.
DisputerIs there only to dispute.
Dealing with difficult participants - the typology
Do “disturbers” really disturb? Or are they just different from you? Whatever your answer is the same “species” pop up in every seminar or workshop.

How to address their needs

Now that you have come across some type of so-called difficult participants,. Perhaps you are even one of them? Then, you would rate yourself not as difficult, right? You just have a question. You just want to contribute. You just want to bond. So, you know that there are no difficult participants. There are just some people whose needs are in one or the other area more distinct. For dealing with difficult participants, first listen and observe what their needs are. Then, here are possible actions how to address them.

TypeDescriptionPossible actions
ChallengerChallenges everything.Return to the topic but via the group; if necessary go in the meta level and discuss his needs.
Positive DriverSees everything in a positive light, but contributes a lot.Use him as a joker, letting him sum up and repeat facts.
Mr. Know it allWants to contribute and comment on everything.Give some space but incorporate the group, sometimes postpone statements to allow others to join in.
TalkativeWants to talk for the sake of talking.Limit the amount of time he is allowed to speak.
TimidDoesn’t come out, refuses games.Does this disturb the group? Encourage, Flash Light, open-ended questions.
InterviewerHas a question to everything.Postpone questions, counter question, return to the topic.
Mr. I don’t careDoesn’t participate.Does this disturb the group? Just encourage, but don’t waste too much energy on him.
DisputerIs there only to dispute.Clarify his concerns with the group on a meta-level.

Now make your own experiences! Good luck!

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