How to deal as a trainer or teacher with uninterested participants

Every trainer or teacher will face it one day.  A participant who is not involved, not doing their tasks and not participating in the group discussions and exercises.  Although I have been involved for more than 20 years in training, teaching and facilitation, it is still a challenge to face and to deal with an uninterested participant.
Here are some tips and hints on how to intervene;
1.       A private talk, one-to-one
Let’s face it. Try to discover why somebody is not involved or interested.  During a break, after the training or at an informal moment you decide to talk to the person.  Doing the talk in a relaxed atmosphere, for example a walk or a drink, helps to bring the person at ease.  Questionning and inquiring on how the participant feels in the group or participates in the course, helps the participant to make a choice if the training or the course is the most appropriate way to learn and how the person can take the initiative to lead their own learning proces. Sometimes, the participants decides to quit the training since the participant has other expectations or other motives to learn and develop.

2.       Be confident, be relaxed and show confidence
The more you show confidence, the more enthousiastic you are about what you are teaching or facilitating, the more people get triggered or interested.  Feeling safe and knowing that the participants are guided by somebody who has to share something interesting,  the less people feel disinterested.  Watch the video: How to  be an excellent teacher.

3. Address the person in the group meeting or class and stimulate their imigination
Address a person directly in class, if you feel the person is not participating.  Simple positive inquiry questions can help to activate uninterested participants.  What example do you have? Can you mention the last three topics we discussed?  What useful input have you heard sofar? Do you have to add something?  Simple positive focused questions can make people feel, that it is worth to participate.

4.     Give the person a responsibilitiy or a task
Assignments or tasks can do miracles to get people activated.  Asking the person to do a presentation, a reading assignment or asking to make the minutes can provide some useful insight if the person is committed to participate in the group and willing to share and make an investment in the group.  It does not always work, but it can provide input on making your next intervention;  a private talk, one-to-one.

5.       Define joint learning goals and expectations from the beginning
Start each training course or class with an intake, where each participant is made responsible for defining their own learning goals. These learning goals and expectations on how the participant would like to develop are the departure point for the training or class.  During the training time is planned to monitor and evaluate if the learning goals and expectations are being met or that the course should be adjusted.  Participants needs should of course match the capacities and know how of the teacher/ trainer.  So learning goals are a joint effort where the trainer and participants are feeding each other.  Defining joint learning goals from the beginning is an essential step in preventing having unintersted participants later on during the training.
6.       Make the group responsible to get the uninterested person involved
Peer participants can play an essential role in supporting an uninterested person involved. People within the group know about the group dynamics and characters within the group. As long as a teacher or a trainer is able to make each participants’contribution part of the team performance or vice versa, the group can deal with the behaviour of an uninterested person. As a teacher or trainer you can:
  • Formulate ground rules and measures to maintain them from the beginning
  • Define joint learning goals
  • Have participants to work in small groups and give them small group assignments

In case you have tried the aforementioned interventions and the group can still not deal with an uninterested participant, you can help the group by walking away or showing your emotions. It can be a risky intervention, but it can also be a helpful one. It can confront the group if they are really motivated to learn from their teacher and trainer and it confront them on how they would like to maintain their group values, beliefs and ground rules.


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