How to TAME difficult, skeptical, hostile or challenging participants

1 lion stonework

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a deep breath, pretend you’re not defensive, and say thank you

 

You feel like your presentation is going well, the group is on board, and then someone says (in not the most collegial tone), “Excuse me, but I already know all this stuff – are we going to be covering anything new today?”

What now? How to quickly get back on track?

We can’t always predict peoples’ behaviour, but it’s safe to assume that sooner or later we will be challenged, no matter how accommodating, engaging, well-prepared and genuinely nice people we are. I developed the acronym “TAMERS” as an easy way to remind myself to slow down in these kinds of situations, and to respond with poise and professionalism. Here are the steps, followed by an illustrative example.

Thank the person asking: This is the opposite of what we generally feel like doing when we’re challenged; however we can be genuine in thanking the person for two reasons: (1) Suddenly the whole audience is paying attention, and audience engagement is always a good thing. (2) As a rule, if one person expresses dissatisfaction or disagreement, he or she is not alone. That person has just done you a big favor by giving you some valuable in-the-moment feedback. So say “thanks” with sincerity.

Acknowledge their experience/ commitment/ willingness to take a risk: Adults come with pre-existing knowledge, experience and wisdom, and it pays to acknowledge that openly and bring it into the curriculum.

Mirror the question or comment back: Mirroring or reflecting back accomplishes three things: (1) When we are challenged in front of a group, suddenly our defenses get activated and we aren’t able to think or hear as clearly as usual. Mirroring makes sure that we’ve accurately understood the message – this is critical because it helps avoid the “No, that’s not what I meant” trap. (2) Mirroring back lets the other person know that he or she has been understood. This communicates respect and tends to de-escalate any combative or hostile tendencies on the part of the audience member. (3) A good reflective statement tends to elicit a “yes” response from the other person. So now you both agree about at least one thing, and this paves the way to finding even more common ground.

Extrapolate to a broader context or principle: If you can generalize the specific statement to a broader value, something that the whole group can get behind, it is easier to respond and find solutions.

Respond to the question or comment: The above steps have prepared the ground to respond to the person’s challenging question or comment. Responding right away (without first Thanking, Acknowledging and Mirroring) can come across as defensive and can even escalate the situation.

See what others think and check back: It’s always a good idea to bring it back to the whole group and invite different perspectives. That includes audience members who agree with you – and it is more palatable to the “challenger” to hear disagreement from another group member than from the presenter.

Here is an example of “TAMERS” in action, using the challenging statement from the beginning of this post:

Audience member: “Excuse me, but I already know all this stuff – are we going to be covering anything new today?”

T: Thanks for speaking up and sharing your concerns,

A: I’m guessing that you aren’t the only person in the group that is feeling this way.

M: So you’re saying that this information is pretty much just a review – and not a very helpful one at that…

E: Everyone here has taken their valuable time to be here today, and I’m committed to making this an outstanding learning experience.

R: I wonder if it would be helpful to take a couple of minutes to talk about what you and others were hoping for, and how we can accomplish that.

S: (to the group) What do you think?

And if all of the steps seem like a lot to remember, it still works if you take out the vowels and make it “TMRS”:

T: Thanks for speaking up and sharing your concerns,

M: So you’re saying that this information is pretty much just a review – and not a very helpful one at that…

R: I wonder if it would be helpful to take a couple of minutes to talk about what you and others were hoping for, and how we can accomplish that.

S: (to the group) What do you think?

Important note: TAMERS will work for you if you are willing to really engage the other person and the group in an open dialogue. It’s not about manipulating or “tricking” the person into agreeing with you; but rather it is a set of strategies to help ground a productive response in the moment.

Good luck and feel free to share how this works for you!

4 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: