Master Facilitator Journal

Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0567, January 23, 2013

View Steve Davis's profile on LinkedIn
facilitatoru blog
Dear Friends,

The thing that tends to scare us most as facilitators is facing what we often refer to as the difficult participant. He or she may show up as the person who continues to interrupt and go off on tangents. Or the person who has to disagree, argue, or criticize every comment someone makes. Though we often view these kinds of behaviors as "problems" and the people who exhibit them, "difficult," these descriptions may not always be accurate. Sometimes the "problem" participant is acting out the issue that no one else wants to talk about, that if addressed, may lead to the real source of the group's problem, or the leverage they're looking for to make a giant leap. This week's article, Dealing with Difficult Participants, offers several common scenarios we often see in groups and simple steps to constructively working through them.

If you or your colleagues are interested in submitting an article for consideration, please email your ideas. I'd love to hear from you. We hope our work continues to bring inspiration to your world. Thank you for being a part of our growing community and please continue to send your wonderful feedback.


Steve Davis



meeting workshop license

emotional intelligence courseware

The Point

Dealing With Difficult Behaviors 
Know how to gracefully deal with the "problem" participant

Group Management Skill

One of the most challenging things for us to deal with as facilitators is the "difficult" participant. I'm sure you've all experienced this either as a member or leader of a group. You know the kind of person I'm talking about. He's the one who keeps interrupting the group to ramble incessantly on some seemingly irrelevant topic. It seems that everyone but he can sense the tension in the room and the members psychically screaming for him to, "Please shut up!" 

Or you maybe you remember the antagonist. The one member that has to disagree, argue, or criticize every comment someone makes. Or the person who has a "yes but" for every idea put forward.

We've been so conditioned to be "nice" in our culture that we feel tongue-tied and helpless when someone else isn't being so nice in our groups. As facilitators, and participants too, we have got to learn to compassionately and effectively handle these kinds of behaviors. The following tips outline methods of handling individual behaviors that we might consider difficult as facilitators.


7 Dominating the Discussion. A person talks too often, too long, or too loud, making it difficult for others to participate.

- Stop the person, thank him or her, and say you'd like to hear from someone else.
- Call attention to the agenda and time frames.
- Break eye contact. Move away from the person. Stop giving him or her focused attention.
- Move closer and closer to the person, maintaining eye contact. Get in front of him or her. The problematic behavior will start to stand out (even to the person).
- Summarize what the person has said and move to someone else.
- Give the person a time limit.
- Before the discussion starts, pose a standard for the length of comments. For example: "Let's hear from a few people for no more than 2 minutes each."
-  When you know in advance that an individual or individuals tend to dominate a group, propose a ground rule at the beginning of the session that everyone "monitor the air time." Explain that for some, this means talking less; for others, it means talking more.
- Introduce an inclusion activity to get everyone participating.

6 Inserting Personal Agendas. A person continually inserts a concern, a disagreement, or an alternative or additional agenda item. This is often annoying if it's repetitious and distracts from the group task.
- Ask the person how what he or she is saying relates to the current agenda item.
- Record the point, thank the person, and move on.
- Ask the person what he or she wants the group to do with the input.
- Give the person a time limit.

5 Talking off the Subject. Sometimes people are out of synch with the agenda and regularly talk about things that are irrelevant to the group's task or are out of sequence with the agenda.

- Ask them to relate what they are saying to the current agenda.
- Ask if the group can come back to their point and record it on a "parking lot" sheet.
- Ask others if they have anything to add to what the person said.
- Stop them. Tell them it's not appropriate now. Bring it up later under a different part of the agenda.

4 Having Side Conversations. There are always people who have to make private comments to one another or carry on another meeting with their neighbor.

- Invite them to share what is being said.
- Stop the conversation, be quiet, and look at the people talking.
- Ask them to stop.
- Ask if they would please join the group.
- Move closer to the people having the side conversation.
- Repeat the topic under discussion and ask if everyone can focus on having just one conversation at a time. Say, "Let's have one conversation," or "Let's al focus on the same thing."
- Point out that the whispering or talking is distracting.

3 Being Constantly Negative or Antagonistic, or Presenting a Hostile Demeanor. Some people are nay-sayers, doubters, and cynics. Nothing is okay and nothing will work. They always seem skeptical. Their negative expressions may be either verbal or nonverbal.

- Acknowledge their points of view.
- Make a special point of thoroughly paraphrasing their view the first couple of times they speak. Stick very close to their exact wording.
- Point out the negative pattern.
- Ask if there is any part of the work that they feel good about.
- Ask for their opinions about what is needed. Record the opinions. Ask the group to respond.

2 Attacking, Criticizing, or Picking an Argument. Some people go after other members or the facilitator to argue or personally attack. Sometimes this is just counter-dependence, aimed at discrediting or trying to change what the group is doing.

- Describe, non-judgmentally, what the person is doing.
- Ask if the criticism or judgment (attack) is based on something that has occurred in the meeting.
- Stop any argument. Ask for and record a statement of each position. Engage other group members in discussing their positions.
- Ask the person what the group could do to respond to his or her concern.

1 Attendance Problems. Some people repeatedly arrive late or leave early, miss meeting , or make a habit of ducking in and out. These actions disrupt the group, delaying or halting its progress.

- Take the time to get an attendance commitment from the group. Enforce It.
- Speak to the person outside of the meeting.
- Don't review anything or stop the meeting for such people.
- Suggest either or both of these ground rules: "Members agree to support any decision made in their absence," and/or 'There will be no reviews for people absent at any time."
- Ask members to announce if, when, and why they have to leave, come late, or miss a meeting.
- At the beginning of the meeting, review the scheduled times and ask if there is 4nyone who will not be able to be there for any part of the meeting.
- Ask one of the group members to update someone on a break.
- Have the group leader ask these members to come to meetings regularly. If they can't do that, replace them. Ask those who can't regularly participate to suggest replacements in the group. Avoid allowing "temporary" replacements to ill in for another member.

Adapted from "The Facilitator's Fieldbook," by Justice and Jamieson.

Add Your Comments


Try one of these interventions the next time you facilitate a group. We'd love to hear what happens for you. Please click on Add Your Comments to share your questions, feedback, or experience. I'd love to hear from you.

This Week's Offer

30% off Random Acts of Facilitation (coupon VIP30)

For new facilitators and change agents.

Skills and attitudes for the new facilitator or group member who wants to get their group into serious motion.

25 Actions You Can Take to Empower Any Group

This pre-recorded teleclass covers 25 facilitative actions you can take to empower and move groups forward. This course is for beginning facilitators or group members that simply want to know more about facilitation so that they can make the groups they are a part of more effective.

5-Hour Random Acts of Facilitation Training Agenda...
Here's what you'll be learning and doing during they course...

Introduction to the Facilitation and Self Facilitation Skills

1. Create the Ambience
2. Share the Dream
3. Get Facilitation
4. Juggling
5. Me First

Relating with compassion and understanding

6. Be Ignorant
7. Make Smiles Happen
8. Hold 'em High
9. Acknowledge the Elephant
10. Turn on Your Crap-Detector

Group Dynamics and Facilitation

11. Build the Container
12. Build trust
13. Mine the Unexpected
14. Evolve Your Team
15. Honor the Process
16. Facilitate Full Participation

Organizing and Presenting yourself confidently, professionally, and authentically

17. Prepare for Success
18. Get Real
19. Make Experiences, Not Speeches
20. Watch the Body Talk
21. Be your message

Intervening to shift group energy

22. Tame the Tormentors
23. CareFront.
24. Use the Struggle
25. Break through barriers
26. Facilitate from Within
27. Embrace Facilitation as a Master's Path

Benefits to you of participating in this Training...
1. Get a great introduction to the concept and practice of facilitation skills if you are contemplating becoming a facilitator, team leader, board member, manager, mediator, etc.
2. Never waste another minute in an ineffective meeting again.
3. Learn how to challenge and empower every group you come in contact with.
4. Learn skills to help groups make quantum leaps in their effectiveness.
5. Be a catalyst for positive change in your community.

Also included with your training...
In addition to the training described above, you also receive:
1. Access to the participant-only website (lots of resources, forms, etc.).
2. Copy of the Portable Article Bank ($39 value).


Click here to purchase the
MP3 Audio Version for $79

About the satisfaction guarantee

If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with this product, simply email us with a request to refund/credit your credit card in the full amount and we will do so immediately. This policy completely removes the buying risk for you.

©2001-2013. Powered by, Madison, WI.. All Rights Reserved.