JEM Management Training

Managing Group Dynamics – Dealing with challenging participants

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Managing group dynamics

Sometimes as a manager or staff member we are required to train groups or coach individuals on new processes, technical information or maybe forthcoming changes. Some groups and individuals are easier than others to engage in the training. It’s useful to understand group dynamics in order to manage the more challenging members of a group more easily. Here are some of our suggestions.

Setting up the training session well right at the beginning outlining expectations and boundaries can certainly help with group dynamics. In addition, it’s useful to have some strategies in mind if you are faced with challenging participants. They may come in the form of:

  • the know-it-all
  • the ‘slow one’
  • the ‘negative one’
  • the chatters
  • the ‘apathetic’ one

SolutionKnow -it – all

Know-it-All types usually have rather large egos that need to be stroked. They are often quite well informed and can add value to the session if handled well. Sometimes their behaviour may make them difficult to handle as they may overtly challenge your knowledge, motivation or simply make controversial or provocative statements.

Solution: The best way to deal with the know-it-all is to acknowledge their expertise or viewpoint. However, this must be sincere and avoid sounding like a put down. If they indeed do have a lot of knowledge and expertise, use it to help you answer questions that are more difficult. They will be flattered by the attention.

You also need to stand strong and answer their challenges assertively. For example if they say “You know there’s a much easier way of doing that” you might say “Thank you John for raising that, and of course, with technical training, there are many ways to skin a cat. I’m only demonstrating one way so that people don’t get confused. If you know an easier way, please feel free to use it”.

With controversial or provocative statements you may also need to challenge them by seeking further clarification instead of getting ruffled. You might ask ‘That’s an interesting view, what makes you say that? What do other people think?

Slow one

Some learners take a bit longer to understand concepts or complete tasks. Often this has a lot to do with their learning style and we should not judge them for it.

Solution: Wait for the majority of people to finish a task (say 80%) before moving on and say something like “I know some of you haven’t quite finished but in the interests of time we are going to move on – please see me afterwards if you need extra help”

If they have difficulty understanding a concept, try explaining it in a different way, use a metaphor, draw a diagram, ask someone else to explain it.

You might need to spend a bit more time one on one and ask what would help them to remember the steps/understand the concept etc


There is sometimes someone in the group who doesn’t want to be there, particularly if it’s mandatory training, and so focuses on the potential problems and criticizes things openly.

Solution: This can be a tricky one but there are a number of strategies that work. You can offer to feedback their comments to management. You can thank them for their views and ask that they focus on trying to make it work. Alternatively you can catch them at a break and give them feedback about how their behaviour is impacting the rest of the learners and that you’d like them to keep their views to themselves.

The chatters

It can be frustrating when people keep having side conversations or distracting others during activities.

Solution: The best way to deal with chatters is to stop and look at them until they stop or ask if they’d like to add anything. Again you can have a quiet word with them and give them feedback about how their behaviour is impacting the rest of the learners and that you’d like them to focus. If you have set clear expectations and boundaries at the start of the session you can also refer back to them.

The apathetic one

Apathetic participants are a little like ‘the negative one’ except they don’t openly criticize or make negative comments they just don’t engage in the training. They often demonstrate negative body language such as folded arms, sitting back or sighing.

Solution: The best way to deal with apathetic participants is to make the training more fun and interactive. You might break the group into pairs or smaller groups to perform an activity, work with them one on one or get them out of their chairs to stimulate them. You might also want to uncover the underlying issue behind their apathy: they may be genuinely tired, or can’t see how the training will benefit them. Armed with this information you might be able to counter their apathy by helping them focus on the elements that spark their interest. You, as a trainer, also need to display energy and enthusiasm for your training. Without this, the training can be boring and therefore may get a mediocre response.


Armed with these strategies, managing group dynamics can be simple. For more information about this topic and others relating to training others, contact or visit our Train the Trainer web page to make a booking.

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JEM Management Training

JEM Management Training designs and delivers flexible, in-house management training courses to help  organisations in Perth engage their staff fully in the workplace.

As time is often limited, JEM Training offers flexible half-day management training courses which focus on a specific area of management expertise. These short courses build upon each other over a period of time, chosen by you, to provide ongoing management development.

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