Engaging the "Archetypical" Participant


As seasoned facilitators, you are all surely familiar with the archetypical participants we repeatedly encounter. Each workshop seems to hold at least one of the following "types" of people: The Know-It-All; The Self-Deprecator; The Teacher-Pleaser; The Question-Asker; I could go on. But, I think you know.
Over the years, I have maneuvered my way through and with each of these archetypes, looking for ways to engage their buy in, without buying into their presentation of themselves. It can also be a balancing act to keep a training group bonding and working well together, when one person's personality [insert any other positive spin on this] dominates the group dynamic.
What are your techniques for engaging and these archetypes, without losing the crowd?

Training Facilitation
Beth McNamara, MSW
36 months ago

4 answers



Jerry Nonkovic
36 months ago
Do you mean to point out the personality type with humor? - Thomas 35 months ago
I mean to not take ourselves too seriously and, if necessary to engage with a disruptive behavior, do it respectfully and with humor (or playfulness, as described by Kelly). - Jerry 35 months ago

I don't typically look at people through an archetypal lens - I believe it's better to engage people as individuals rather than as roles.

Prevention is one of the best ways to create a positive learning and working environment. Preconsulting with the leader of the team or sponsor of the session is essential. Sometimes it's worthwhile to talk/meet with some of the participants as well, particularly if they represent strong opposing viewpoints or if there are unhealthy team dynamics.

When a person is dominating a session or taking away from the experience in other ways, these strategies can work:

  • listening and talking with the person during a break
  • asking, "Let's hear from someone who hasn't commented yet."
  • changing the learning approach - show a relevant video, pair people to discuss a question, use a different activity - the change in pace can sometimes address the distracting behavior

Barry Rellaford
36 months ago
Appreciate your insight, Barry! Changing group structures (pairs, triads, copeting teams) and pace are two of my favored approaches, as well. - Beth 35 months ago

Tendency to "normalize" human interaction in corporate settings is not supportive of inclusion and diversity. It creates an army of drones that think and act alike. History shows that misfits and "weirdos" (a/k/a neuro-diverse crowd) usually bring unique points of view to the table. This ability to see beyond the obvious is an essential component in the survival of the species or success of an enterprise.

Notably, some of the brightest minds have horrible social skills. We all probably met an incarnation of Dr. Sheldon Copper at some point. What would the world look like if Tesla, Einstein and so many others were silenced into compliance with some arbitrary norms of conduct? These are, of course, extreme examples but we all fall somewhere in that spectrum.

A facilitator's job is to provide guardrails, put some wind in everyone's sails and get the best out of each and every one of the audience. If s/he exudes respect, humility, authority and is well prepared, the audience will follow.

Clues (verbal or non-verbal) should be given to make it clear what constitutes unacceptable behavior in that particular setting. An alternative, more appropriate set of responses should be offered to manage conflicts, but not at the expense of the freely expressed opinions.

In the final analysis, the measure of success is not so much how well everyone gets along, but the quality of the outcome. Creating a sterile environment that kills dissent and creativity is more concerning than few hurt feelings or ruffled feathers... if the outcome is great.

We should be able to put on the big boys/girls pants, take on the challenge with cheer, abandon contempt and remember that anyone could do it if it was easy.

While contemplating the subject, I came across the following book that seams like a good read and right on point:
"Selfish, Scared and Stupid: Stop Fighting Human Nature And Increase Your Performance, Engagement And Influence"
-- Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory

And an interesting article:

Jerry Nonkovic
35 months ago
I appreciate your thoughtful answer, Jerry. Indeed, group facilitation is not an easy task; and celebrated diversity breeds creativity! - Beth 35 months ago

As a Facilitator it's important to recognize those in our 'Helpful' crew and those in the 'disruptive' camp but the skill is not to show it and alienate participants. It's important everyone feels valued and comfortable and relaxed in the environment to get the best outcomes and full learning experience.

I like to champion the behavior of playfulness and begin my sessions by setting some group agreements in a fun and enjoyable way. It gives me a non confrontational platform to signal and call things out and it can be done without singling people out. It also empowers all participants

Kelly Ford
35 months ago
Thanks, Kelly! I absolutely agree with structuring playfulness into norm setting. Hadn't thought of using that term before...instead, think of humor, but I like yours better. In fact, I was trying for a bit of playfulness in this particular question, although most humor has an element of truth to it. - Beth 35 months ago

Have some input?