Gentle Bamboo Solutions

Handling disruptive or attention-seeking participants


The standard advice on online forums to handle such people is "Don’t feed the trolls."

The idea is that these kind of people thrive on attention – good or bad. Giving them that attention by engaging with them in conversations will ensure that they become even more disruptive.

I think that’s good advice when dealing with anonymous participants, who typically have some time to think and respond to you.

In a live classroom or virtual training session, ignoring someone won’t help if they are hell bent on getting some attention.

I have found that the best way to handle it is to address it head on. It is to be strong and blunt. Call out their behaviour.

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation I had a few weeks ago in a session. This is what I said:

"Do you have a point or is this for the sake of getting some attention? I’m happy to give you the attention you’re seeking. There’s no need to work so hard for it. In making jokes and arguing with me, you’re interrupting and spoiling the learning for others."

"I can keep playing this game and continue down this road with you. But then this will become a discussion between you and me on a topic that you choose. Rather than a session I’ve prepared for and being paid for. Others will just end up watching rather than feeling as equal participants in this."

"If that is what you want, let me ask the others if I have their permission to sabotage their time. To feed your desire for attention. If they’re ok, we can do this all day long."

Yes, it was harsh. But it really did shut the person up. In fact, surprisingly it had a positive outcome. That person, though initially very angry, became one of the better contributors to the session in a genuinely helpful way.

That last part was a lucky break, and most likely won’t happen again.

The primary message here is to be strong and blunt and call out unhealthy behavior. Its difficult but it is essential for the sake of other participants and for your own well-being.

How do you handle such people?

Calling you out,