Difficult Trainees

By Ashraf Al Shafaki


A difficult student, a difficult participant or a difficult trainee is someone who disrupts the training session resulting in hindering the smooth flow of the session which leads to a degraded learning experience for the rest of the trainees.

Disruptive Behavior

A difficult participant may do one or more of the following disruptive actions during a training session:

  • Verbally attack a fellow participant.
  • Challenge the knowledge presented by the trainer in an attempt to show superiority over the trainer.
  • Try to grab the attention of other participants by trying to be funny at inappropriate times.
  • Try to compete with the trainer in terms of knowledge and classroom control (such as attempting to make the trainer loose control of the classroom by various means).

Root Causes

The difficult participant's desire to show off knowledge and superiority in front of others may stem from the following root causes:

  • An unsatisfied need for recognition by others.
  • An unsatisfied need for appreciation from others. 


In order to deal with difficult participants a competent trainer must try to prevent any symptoms of disruptive behavior to take place during the training in the first place. If despite of the trainer's best efforts one or more participants show signs of disruptive behavior then and only then should the trainer intervene by attempting to control such unwanted behavior.

A competent trainer will often never need to control a difficult participant due to being highly successful in preventing any such disruptive behavior in the first place.


A trainer can prevent to a great extent any disruptive behavior during the training by providing participants with ample opportunity to express themselves openly and to be heard and appreciated by others. This can be achieved by engaging participants during the training session using engaging activities such as:

  • Using icebreakers
  • Pair work (think and listen)
  • Group work
  • Asking you questions
  • Answering your questions
  • Presenting their work to everyone else
  • Listening attentively to their opinions and praising them
  • Using democracy with participants
  • Showing great respect for each and every trainee
  • Never ever attacking any trainee or demeaning him
  • Promoting cooperation rather than competition among participants


If, despite of your best efforts to prevent any difficult participant from exhibiting disruptive behavior, you still face a participant exhibiting such harmful actions then you may do any of the following to stop, isolate or hinder such behavior:

  • Leave other participants to exercise peer pressure over the difficult participant hindering his or her disruptive behavior.
  • Ask participants for a vote to show the difficult participant that his behavior is rejected by the rest of the participants.
  • Completely ignore the difficult participant rendering his actions ineffective. 
  • Speak to the difficult participant in private during the break and if necessary speak to him aside even outside the time of a formal break.
  • If all else fails, you may kick the annoying participant out in a sharp and snappy yet decisive and polite manner.