Seven steps for developing reluctant learners

Learning is a critical element of an effective, efficient and harmonious workplace, whether you are updating staff on new procedures or grooming the next generation of leaders.

However, development programmes by their very nature should take people out of their comfort zone and challenge them to think differently, take on new skills and change their behaviours. And, often, people are pushed forward by managers who are rewarding staff and equipping them with skills for possible future promotions. The result of this is that you can occasionally get people who do not want to take part in growth programmes.

Skilled facilitators should be well equipped to deal with these scenarios and have the necessary tools to engage people in the development programme. But, how do you identify if people are not engaged in the process and what steps should you take to help people who are reluctant to take part?

It’s usually easy to spot those who don’t want to learn before the start of a programme because they will be behaving in a way that shows they are reluctant to engage or get involved. They may be undermining the process and generally demonstrating that they would rather be somewhere else.

Here I share my seven steps for creating a development programme that is relevant and valuable and also how to deal with people who don’t want to learn, making sure they become engaged in personal development and get exactly what they need out of seminars and workshops.

1.  Engage people before the workshop

It’s important to make sure learning is relevant before you even start to plan the programme and developing the materials. I do this by engaging directly with the people involved in the programme ahead of the day.

I’ll start by speaking with their managers to understand exactly what they want out of the development programme and then I’ll provide joining instructions or pre-work for the delegates to make sure it is relevant to them.

This about engaging people before you begin and helping them to understand what the course is about and why it will be directly relevant to them.

2.  Build a rapport with the delegates

On the day itself I always get there early enough to make sure I can have everything set up and ready before anyone arrives. This is so I can then personally greet each person and be aware of how everyone arrives and how they behave.

By giving yourself this time, you are free to talk openly with people, help put them at ease before you begin and create an energy and rapport among everyone in the group.

3.  Start the conversations quickly

Every programme I run begins very quickly with open conversations. I want to get everyone in the right frame of mind by encouraging relaxed conversations and getting people to talk to each other and getting their voice in the room.

I usually do this by encouraging paired conversations about what they want to get out of the training session. This usually gets people talking freely about something relevant to them and in a way they find less intimidating.

4.  Enter into a growth contract

After openly discussing what they want to get out of the session, I make sure everyone is engaged in the process by contracting  with individuals in the group.

This is about hearing what each individual specifically wants to achieve, me explaining exactly what will be involved and then us both agreeing how we can deliver what they need. To do this, I never have more than 12 people in a development session as it ensures you can facilitate individual outcomes for those involved.

You need to know what is going on in the room to deliver real change and, by this stage, everyone should be engaged in the process and excited about what lies ahead.

5.  Hold one-to-ones with those who aren’t engaged

If you have people who are still not sure what they want out of the development programme, now is the time to sit down and have a one-to-one discussion with the person rather than playing it out in front of the group.

Ask them why they are there and, if they say it’s because a manager said they needed it, turn the question round and ask them what they feel they need.

6.  Assume positive intent

If people still appear to be failing to engage in the process after discussing what they want and need, it’s important to assume they have positive intent. As I’ve said, these programmes often need to take people out of their comfort zones and, while they may want to be involved, they may still feel uncomfortable and threatened.

Again, this is time to sit down and discuss how you can help them by changing your style or encouraging them to work with others to get them engaged in the training session.

7.  They are disrupting the group

When all else fails and their behaviour is disrupting the group, it’s important to then provide frank feedback to the individual. At this stage you have exhausted the options and they have to be told that they can change their mindset and stay or they must leave.

I’ve not had this happen to me personally as the previous tools have always had an impact. However, I have seen it happen.

In this instance we were on a two-day course and at the end of day one, a delegate was disrupting the programme, talking a lot and taking a lot of time and energy from the facilitator. The coach had a very frank discussion with the person and said they could leave if they wanted but they would have to feedback that information to their organisation.

After discussing the issues at length, they agreed to stay and they changed their behaviour.

With all development programmes, people are there of their own free will and it’s important to understand what they want to get back out the process. Only then can you properly engage with people and deliver they the change they want to see.

Ultimately you need rapport in the room and I’d love to hear your own tips and thoughts on how best to engage people in learning.