Despite your best efforts and your thorough preparation, some people will choose not to respond appropriately to your instruction. Off-task behavior (talking, making noise…), defensive behavior (put-downs, laughter, anger, contempt…), and refusal to participate are all behaviors you may encounter as you lead others.

Just because someone resists your help doesn’t necessarily mean they disrespect you or what you’re trying to do. These behaviors could be ways of dealing with feelings of inadequacy or failure. Negative behavior is most likely to present itself when the people you’re working with hit a plateau, when they see the task at hand as too challenging, and when they risk exposing their inabilities to their peers. To be an effective leader, you have to know how to respond appropriately to such situations. Remember…

You are responsible ONLY for your own behavior, not the behavior of anyone else. You are TOTALLY responsible for setting a consistent, positive example and for helping to create an environment (society) that encourages right choices.

Once you’ve made the decision to set the positive example—consistently and relentlessly—only then can you expect others to follow similarly.

State your expectations clearly and without emotion

When faced with resistance from your peers, it’s easy to let your enthusiasm for getting things done turn into anger and frustration. It’s alright to be firm but not irrational or overly emotional in your delivery to reluctant learners. Do not plead, whine, nor ask for permission (“c’mon,” “ok?” “alright?” etc.).  Otherwise, you admit your loss of authority and concede their control. Repeat your expectations (more than once when necessary) and wait for compliance.

Praise those who participate appropriately

You send the message that the way to get attention is to respond appropriately. When you spend your energies mostly on reluctant learners, you may actually encourage cooperative participants to misbehave. Everyone wants to be acknowledged and they’ll adopt a behavior that gets attention.

Acknowledge individuals

Move around the group, make eye contact, and call individuals by name. People respond when they hear their names and you reinforce their importance as unique members of the group. Calling people by their names is one of the most effective ways of keeping people alert and on task.

Rearrange the set-up

Rather than separate individuals who misbehave (and draw FURTHER attention to them by doing this), consider re-setting everyone in the group. This permits you to place individuals where you can monitor their behavior and allows you to separate those who misbehave without giving them special attention.

Follow the same procedures and structure as your director and the other leaders.

You’re not just teaching skills to your peers, you’re teaching them how to rehearse. All members of the leadership team must follow the same procedures and use similar technical vocabulary. Consistency in your expectations, in your delivery of information, and in your actions during and away from rehearsal are the keys to efficient, effective team leadership. People are more likely to respect you when your actions and words support each other on a consistent basis.

When you speak, have something to say

When you are unprepared to teach the material or if you run out of things to say, you lose credibility and you open the door to resentment from the group.

·      Memorize 5-10 key aspects of the skill you’re teaching and address them one at a time. If you’re not sure what to say, demonstrate the skill and describe how you do what you’re doing.

·      Relate the skills you’re teaching to previously learned skills.

·      Use humor to reinforce a point, not to win approval. Otherwise you are perceived as “off-task” (or worse, contrary to the other leaders and your director) and you set a poor example.

Team-teach with other leaders

Take turns being in front of the group and refer to what other leaders have said. You reinforce each other’s expertise and you can monitor behavior more effectively.

Allow others to demonstrate

If a reluctant learner possesses adequate skill, you might ask him to demonstrate for the group. This is particularly effective when working with reluctant learners who were not selected to hold leadership positions. Acknowledging their skill as a performer may help them feel more like they have a positive impact on the success of the group. Consider the following before having reluctant learners demonstrate

·      Be certain the individual is capable of demonstrating the skill successfully. Otherwise, you embarrass yourself and the individual you call upon.

·      Let the individual know BEFORE rehearsal that you would like him to demonstrate. This will keep him from feeling surprised or “on-the-spot.”

·      Avoid creating the appearance of rewarding inappropriate behavior by having a reluctant learner demonstrate, even if his skills are high.

·      Be reserved in your delivery and sincere with your praise. Don’t “gush.”

Move on to something new

If you sense that you are no longer making progress on a particular skill, review previously taught skills or move on to something new. Be sure to get approval from your director BEFORE introducing a new skill or concept.

Seek help from your director

Never threaten nor attempt to punish one of your peers. At an appropriate time, approach your director with your concerns and allow him/her to intervene. Focus YOUR efforts on the accurate delivery of information and the consistent application of procedures. Your commitment to consistency will eventually defeat the errant wanderings of reluctant learners.

If you have any questions or if you’d like to brainstorm a particular idea, contact Frank Troyka at