Difficult Participants

2-10 people

Have you ever encountered challenging participants? This activity is designed to provide a framework for managing disruptive behavior during interactive sessions. Leading a meeting can be daunting when dealing with difficult participants. This session is a valuable resource for facilitators, trainers, teachers, coaches, and anyone who leads interactive gatherings. It offers practical and effective techniques for handling disruptive behavior.

Workshop steps


Overview Participants come up with strategies for managing disruptive behaviors, write the strategies on a card, and put the card inside an envelope. Teams exchange envelopes and create strategy cards for dealing with other kinds of disruptive participants. During the evaluation round, team members assess the strategy cards made by other teams and select the top five suggestions. Goal To effectively manage various types of disruptive behaviors from people participating in an interactive exercise. Step 1: Brief the participants Ask participants to reflect on interactive workshops/sessions they have led or taken part in. Have them remember different types of participants who disrupted the activity. Inform participants that they will brainstorm ways to manage different types of disruptive participants.


Arrange the participants Split the participants into four teams with no more than six members each. Ensure the teams are roughly equal in size. Arrange the teams in a circular formation to enable easy envelope exchange.


Hand out the materials Provide each team with one "disruptive participant envelope" and three blank sheets of paper (or index cards).


Begin the initial round Instruct team members to talk about strategies for managing the disruptive actions linked to the participant type mentioned on their given envelope. Request them to jot down these strategies in brief statements on a piece of paper or an index card. Set a 3-minute time limit for this task and urge the teams to work quickly. Clarify that the entire group will assess the teams' strategy cards based on both the quantity and quality of the ideas.


Finish the initial round Once 3 minutes are up, announce the time. Instruct each team to put their guideline card (a paper or index card containing suggestions for managing disruptive participants) into the envelope and hand it over, unsealed, to the next team. Request the teams not to open the envelopes they get.


Proceed to the second round Instruct the teams to consider the disruptive participant type mentioned on the envelope they have, without checking the card inside for guidelines. Ask them to follow the same process as before and write down (on a new guideline card) useful tips for managing such disruptive behaviors. After 3 minutes, announce the time and have the teams put the guideline card back in the envelope and pass it to the next team.


Carry out a third round of the game by following the same steps.


Begin the assessment round Initiate this round similarly to the previous ones. Inform the teams that they no longer need to create new guideline cards. Their task now is to evaluate the existing guideline cards in the envelope. They should review each guideline on every card and compare them with others. Teams have 3 minutes to choose the top 5 guidelines from all the cards.


Showcase the outcomes Randomly choose a team to share their Top 5 findings. Request the team to reveal the kind of disruptive participants mentioned on the envelope and to recite the top five recommendations. Following the recitation, the team must clarify the basis for their selection.


Discuss with the participants Once every team has shared their chosen guidelines, lead a brief conversation about the notable trends within the guidelines. Are there any commonalities in the guidelines for managing various kinds of disruptive participants? Which kind of disruptive participants was the most challenging to create appropriate guidelines for?


Modifications Short on time? Announce strict time limits, like allowing only two minutes per round. Play just two rounds before the evaluation round, or skip the evaluation round altogether. Not enough players? Run the game with individual players, needing only a group of three. Play twice with two different sets of envelopes. Too many players? Split the large group into three or more smaller groups. Have each group form teams and play the game simultaneously. -- Challenging Participant Types (Choose four types from the list below and write each on the front of an envelope) 1. Overbearing participants who talk excessively. 2. Quiet participants who don't contribute to discussions. 3. Energetic participants who engage in side conversations. 4. Skeptical participants who act like they know it all. 5. Unprepared participants who haven't done their homework. 6. Impatient participants who view interaction and discussions as a waste of time. 7. Wandering participants who go off on tangents. 8. Participants who ignore schedules, arriving late and leaving early. 9. Self-centered participants who constantly seek attention. 10. Multitasking participants who constantly check emails and send messages. 11. Unwilling participants who were forced to attend the session. 12. Defiant participants who challenge the facilitator and others. 13. Insensitive participants who make offensive and impolite remarks. 14. Add a custom, relevant idea(s) related to your group.

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Anna Lundqvist
UX Designer and AI Ethics Strategist guiding innovative product development and educational workshops
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Eddy Salzmann
Design lead and team culture enthusiast driving products and design processes
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Ola Möller
Founder of MethodKit who has a passion for organisations and seeing the big picture
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