Working with Difficult Groups

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People are not difficult just for the hell of it. Whilst it may not always be obvious, there is always a reason. It is all too easy for the trainer to label the group as being ‘difficult’ and not consider a range of underpinning issues, including the possibility that it may be something about their own behaviour that is the problem. To turn this around we need to acknowledge that in general, ‘difficult’ behaviour is a stimulus-response dynamic that we are an integral part of.

The first stage in working with ‘difficult groups’ is to get rid of the term ‘difficult group’ that tends to shape how we will confront the challenge and thus avoid projecting hostile non verbal clues that say ‘I want to fight’.

We need to ‘ground’ ourselves by being self-aware and then reduce our initial emotional responses to the challenges. Using positive self affirmation is useful; “I have the knowledge and skills to deal with this; it is any opportunity for me to practice my skills”

Attempting to empathise with the learners may tame and explain their regressive behaviour and thus enable us to reassure them that we are not the enemy and extend an invitation to forming a working alliance.

I am not suggesting that working with ‘difficult’ behaviour in groups is easy; we are human and have a range of feelings and corresponding behaviours that quite naturally at times get in the way of being the ‘perfect’ trainer. This very humility is, I believe the key element in working with challenges.

Sometimes we will simply not be able to negotiate with a group in the time available. The group dynamics may be such that no one, with all the insight, expertise and goodwill in the world will match the negativity of the history of the group and individuals within it. What I am saying however, is that an awareness of ourselves and our own behaviour when leading a group can have a least some influence on the potential outcome.