“Difficult” Is In The Eye Of the Beholder
Knowing how to handle audience Drama Queens , Know It Alls and Power Players rapidly catapults your skill in sensitively working with groups and workshops. I tend to give so called “difficult” people a long rope unless the integrity or safety of the group is threatened. Handle each challenging situation from the beginning with strong boundaries and agreements. Model your expectations of the group with your own behaviour. The group will watch you closely to see how you handle difficulties. There is no neat solution and “difficult” is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t be too quick to judge; social anxiety is easily triggered by group dynamics.
Here’s how I handled 3 different situations:
1: “Drama Queen” Wants Maximum Attention!
During a workshop on “gracious self-promotion”, one participant came in late to the front of the room, asked if anyone wanted a throat lozenge and loudly knocked over her water bottle. It rolled dramatically across the floor. All eyes followed it instead of me! Mind you, her behaviour was absolutely fascinating and brilliantly self-promoting! Throughout the workshop she kept shaking her head and sighing melodramatically with numerous toilet breaks and requests for information to be repeated. Information which she then proceeded to disagree.
I decided she wasn’t genuinely distressed but had mistaken the workshop for her lounge room. In both breaks I asked her privately if she was ok. Her mysterious response was to nod without speaking, would not look me in the eye, turned her back and walked away. She appeared to want attention publicly, and then rejected it when it was offered privately. As Facilitator, I chose compassionate damage control. I did this primarily by redirecting audience attention using clear body language and an authoritive tone. I also gave her a couple of public opportunities for attention, which she mysteriously spurned. The relief in the room was politely palpable when she left us early.
2: “Know It All” Stages a Coup!
In a small group of 20 business owners who had come to learn about communicating with presence, one man had an answer to every question, even rhetorical ones! Soon I started saying: “Now this is something I want you to think about silently… to yourself…” but he still felt his thoughts were worthy of sharing. Other participants were starting to sigh, eyes began to roll and bodies shifted away from him. I didn’t shut him down immediately because his contributions were interesting and I wanted to encourage interaction. However, when one person begins dominating, the group can become confused as to who is the actual leader. It was me or him.
When he next tried to butt in and talk over me, I gently put my hand up in a soft “stop” position, said abruptly: “One moment please”, and turned my body away from him and faced the rest of the group. I then finished my words and directly engaged other participants to tip the balance of energy and power. I asked inclusive open questions like, “Mary… what are your thoughts about…?” After that, I continued to respectfully acknowledge him in the same way I did everyone else. And we both settled down with egos intact and the group stayed on track.
3: “Power Player” Tries to Dominate!
During a small group brainstorming session, one woman ignored my directions and took command of a group. She had chosen to join a group of inexperienced juniors. She loudly took centre stage, reassigned roles and changed the focus of the exercise. Five other groups worked cohesively with a flurry of conversation and the smell of texta pens in the air. Her group however was unnaturally quiet. The participants sat far apart, their bodies drooping. All texta pens, paper and ideas were exclusively under her control.
Rather than embarrass or confront her in front of the others, I apologised for making a mistake. I explained that each group needed more diversity in age and experience. I asked 2 senior, confident participants to switch to Ms Power Player’s group, then invited 2 younger ones to leave. This totally changed the dynamic, destroyed her budding power base and restored momentum to the exercise. And I’m happy to report, everyone then got a fair go and everyone’s voice was heard.
How To Handle Audience Drama Queens
Be alert for mental health issues. Keep in mind that “difficult” people like Drama Queens, Know it Alls and Power Players are a great learning opportunity. Luckily these behaviours show up in the minority, perhaps 5% of any group or audience. I’ve found the other 95% of the group relished the workshop more because of what they learned. The interplay of power and drama and display of your interpersonal communication skills is better than TV!