How to train a dragon (in the office)

Training difficult people is a delicate art which few HR professionals have truly mastered – here are tips to do it without getting burnt.

How to train a dragon (in the office)
When HR professionals are tasked with training a difficult person they have to be very careful not trigger a chain reaction, said Eleanor Shakiba, communications skills trainer and author of the new book Difficult People Made Easy.
She told HRM that if someone is behaving in a way that is inappropriate, leaders need to be careful that they address it in private.
“You catch them during a break or you actually manoeuvre things so that you can talk to them individually,” she said. “But don’t do anything that is going to put them in the spotlight during the class.”
Shakiba acknowledged that sometimes it will be difficult because they are actually acting in a way where they want to be the centre of attention. However, it’s imperative to avoid shaming and blaming.

“You also need to not allow any behaviour to destress other participants. So you need to act as a moderator on the behaviour,” she said.

“You should not let other people be criticised or shamed in the training situation.”

The challenge here is that sometimes a difficult person will trigger a reaction in you and you really feel like getting involved in the conflict. But you need to be neutral and to step outside of that, she added.

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Make sure the participants are right for training

If you have a situation where a manager comes up to you and says: ‘Watch out for that person because he/she is difficult’, be really careful about whether you take that person into the training situation, said Shakiba.

“I would be having a conversation to check whether training is appropriate for that person or if they need coaching or counselling,” she added.

Set strong boundaries

Trainers should set strong frames at the beginning of a presentation as to what they are going to say, said Shakiba. This includes behavioural guidelines. 

“You need to draw a distinction between training and group therapy. So here is what we can be talking about and here is what is not appropriate for us to be discussing.

“If someone brought up a situation from home that was personal and inappropriate for a corporate setting, you can say: ‘Remember at the start of the day when we said we were going to be focused only on business-type situations’.

She added that if you want, you could discuss it with them in the break.

Keep skills up to date

It’s important for trainers to keep their skills in conflict resolution up to date, said Shakiba.

She added that if you can get feedback from other trainers about the way you are handling those difficult situations, it’s important to act on it because we all have blindspots.

“I’m a really big advocate of trainers being in professional supervision where you meet, say, once a month with a more experienced person and talk about things that are pushing your buttons or pushing the group’s buttons so you can learn to change your behaviour,” she said.

“In some cases you might even want to have an organisational psychologist or someone who deals with that higher level psychology be your coach or mentor.

“For example, I have had the same coach for 15 years because I know I deal with tough people issues. And I think that it is our responsibility that we are managing ourselves and our own impact on the group.”

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