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When working with groups of professional adults I keep things respectful and kind. And for some reason (usually men) choose to make really negative comments towards me and what sounds like personal
attacks.


For example working with a corporate organization one guy must have said "That is because you don't want you @ss kicked" and "You are only saying that because you do not want me to tie you in that tree." and
"You are worried I am going to slash the tires on you toyota, aren't
you"  there were more comments.


Then again recently another man in a group, "are you going to dance and sing like a clown for us." and "do you really make a living with this kind of stuff." and "I really hate what you are making us do right
now."


Besides this just even people expressing disgust as having to be in the room involved in a team building program.


I understand 'challenge of choice' just wondering if anyone else has experienced this kind of outright hostility and disrespect with participants.


Preferably we can turn this conversation into a solutions idea...

would like to hear others experience, thoughts, and ideas.

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Hi Michael

Wow - sounds tough! I must admit I don't seem to have similar problems. The idea of being multi-partial - being on everybody's side - might be useful here. If people think you are on the 'other' side, then they could well get shirty. Being 'neutral' - on nobody's side - can come across in the same way.

What are these people 'customers for change' for? What do they want different, and are prepared to act about? Finding that out can be an excellent start.
Hi Michael
You made me think with your post a lot during last days and I was searching for examples and was surprised by not finding any of them in my personal memories - maybe I'm forgetting 'them' or am only listening to the aspect of 'what do they want (to do) now' ---so no help from me by similar experiences.

You don't write anything about how do you manage to deal with the reported moments, I'm wondering what worked well, I guess these are special moments to continue from...

Some thoughts what might be useful instead - without being sure what do YOU think would be desirable instead.
I see this under 'participants being able to see a meaningful process' and 'building up cooperation'

-what I learned from Jesper and do often is to interview in advance, during the contracting phase some of the participants to hear what needs to happen for them that they are willing to contribute and that it's useful for them. The additional benefit from this, often, is the rumor going around in the organization: someone was interested in us. Also at the starting moment I already have some connections within the group
-what I hear myself sometimes to say at the beginning is the keen hope that while talking here in this room we hope to improve the practice back in the work!
-'yesing' to the offers participants give and building up on them from the beginning (see improvisation http://www.edutopia.org/randy-nelson-school-to-career-video) became a passion in my work with groups and helps me a lot in creating good cooperation
-what I also think helps me to build up and win the cooperation towards a goal is to show+tell+ask them, what the goal of this gathering might be and how this could be a benefit for they work/life

i visited your cool homepage and I see you work also with physical activities. This reminds me of my games I use a lot when working with teams. I learned that it's useful for people me not taking for granted that they like my stuff, to choose activities where there is a variety of possible and OK actions. I also learned to build up safety during the process (starting with harmless and easy agreeable tasks...)

I hope this here is somehow useful? Let me know
Thank you for putting this out there Michael. It sounds horrific. I hope none of this is too obvious but the following are some thoughts.

I was once running a team development event where the most senior member of the team constantly made similar comments including the "are you really getting paid for this" one. Unfortunately he was also very funny in a cynical vein and seemed quite well liked and respected. However, it was clear that his interventions were inhibiting to others and was draining the spirit of the whole process. My approach to this initially to simply not respond as if one was trying to ignore a child having a tantrum in the supermarket. At the break I took him aside and said that I could see that he was really struggling with this, and asked him if there was any way at all in which I could make the process more easy for him to engage with. This seemed to totally disarm him and he was apologetic, saying that he could completely see what I was trying to do but that he personally hates this kind of thing. As it turned out he contrived an excuse to leave the session then though he did return before then end of the day and behaved himself.

The other thing I think helps is to remind participants that as adults they have choice and that nothing that I invite them to do is compulsory. In fact the role of the bystander is highly valued and that anyone can do that at any time (although I usually quip that if everyone does it it makes what is happening a bit difficult to interpret- a bit like an away day of clinical psychologist (which is what I am!!) who reflect on what is going on all the time but never do anything!!).

Constantly checking with participants in the moment whether we are on the right track for them also helps locate some power for adapting the process with them and shows you respect them. They are therefore less likely to put you in a position where they can pretend that you are "making them" do things. A supporting strategy would be to stop and take time out and perhaps shift into exploring the process- e.g. asking - drawing on your best experiences what has made an event like this really practically helpful to you. I suspect the list is unlikely to include destroying the facilitator- who is there as a resource to make this happen for them! I find asking this sort of thing at the beginning - tapping their own best experience of what makes events like this great- is much better than generating "ground rules" and almost always includes reference to mutual respect. (Another good source of guidelines for group process can be found in Nancy Kline's TIme to Think - e.g. making sure everyone's voice is heard without interruption for example).

Ultimately, I think it is important to model respect by modelling respect for yourself (and please don't think for a moment that I am implying that you don't!). For me this mean having a zero-tolerance policy for this sort of thing. If they can do it to you, what are they doing to others deemed as "other" in their organisation?

Thanks again for sharing.
Wow.
This is a great discussion.
All the ideas and solutions focused systems are really bubbling up.
I hope that we can continue to share and more people offer their input.
Because it is a challenge that we face, and a solution we can work out by sharing best practices, techniques, and adapting the environment to change what is happening.
Michael, from the SF book 'Take them seriously, not literally'.

Insoo would have probably said something like, 'Wow!. You seem pretty upset.' She'd then have gone on to change the subject. She was great at using the line, 'We'll get back to that later'

With these kinds of customers in the room we can also draw from the world of politics the line; 'Never wrestle with a pig. The pig enjoys the wrestling and you get dirty' In other words, 'We'll get back to that later'
Hi Michael and all,
this is an interesting discussion, and that sounds like a tough situation to be in.

Like others here, I have never had this direct experience of personal comments. Maybe British groups are too polite! I have in the distant past, however, managed to upset a couple of groups, who responded to what I was putting out, and I found that pretty painful at the time. I learnt a lot though, and it has informed my approach ever since. Here are some of my learnings from my experience, which may or may not be useful in some way.

I like Alan's pig quote, and it reminds me of one from this community: something like "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn't work and it upsets the pig." Learning from my experience: just because I think something is fun and engaging, doesn't mean the participants will. If they can't see the point and the usefulness of it, or if they feel forced, they won't engage in it. This varies from half-hearted involvement, to downright refusal to do it. Not everyone is as willing to make a fool of themselves in public as I am! Remedy: careful set up and trust-building, and not going too fast for the participants. The way I frame the day and the activity makes a big difference, and here I echo others' comments about getting the learners' goals and their buy-in to the process.

I also messed up a long time ago when trying to be impressive because I felt inadequate for the task with a group of Managing Directors. I admit I was underqualified for the task at the time and they saw right through me. They were right. Learning from this and from subsequent work on being authentic: "When I stop trying to be impressive I can be very impressive indeed." When I stop worrying about how I am doing and focus on what they need and what I can offer, my energy changes, and the group seems to respond to that.

Here's something else that makes a big difference in my experience... If I feel any kind of separation from participants, or needing to prove myself in some way, this puts up a barrier where we are somehow on different sides, like Mark mentioned. When I come from a ground of being of total respect and loving kindness (to them and me!), I can accept whatever the group offers ("yes, and..."), and respond to that, kindly and firmly. Principles of Aikido are useful here. I had a glimpse of that at the Summer Retreat with Carin Mussman's activity.

I think I'm essentially too lazy to work with resistant groups, so I aim to help them become cooperative, which makes life much easier. Sometimes, I have reminded people that I only work with consenting adults, and if they have something else that is more valuable for them to be doing, they have a choice to go and do that. If they choose to stay, then how can we make this time valuable for them?

Have you ever read "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz? 'Take Nothing Personally' is a very useful agreement to live by. Much easier with strangers than with my family, I have found....... and I'm still working on that one ;-)

If the action is in the interaction, what are we putting into the interaction to help or hinder it?

I too am interested in the many times I expect you have had great relationships with groups, and wonder what you do that works to help things along?

This has turned into a long post, so I'll sign off now!
Hi Michael...
wow, that sounds pretty tough!
Sorry to hear about that...

I did experience hostility in the past but not at the level you describe.
I think the ideas put forward by Mark, Kati, Steve, Alan and Sue are very useful.
I would like to chime in with a couple of experiences of mine, when I was delivering workshops for a consulting firm:
a) when I started as a facilitator, many years ago, I was scared. Scared for my safety, since I started working delivering workshop to factory workers. Nothing rational, mind you, but I was very aware of being alone in a room with a dozen or so other guys who might challenge me at a very basic level, i.e. beat the crap out of me. What helped me was... to attend martial art classes, actually street fighting. I know, it is ridiculous, but it helped my confidence. Nothing like being beaten up at the gym to boost your self-respect! :)) Also, what helped me a lot was taking control of the "space". Meaning walking right up to them, always standing in front of the table, getting close... it is empowering and I think it sends a very primal message... well, that is what I found useful
b) usually participants, if they were mad, they were mad at the company. I made it very clear I was not part of the company. I did not have any agenda other than teaching them some skills they might found useful in their ordinary life. I pointed out it was their choice - they could either leave or stay and maybe they could get something useful out of it... this respectful approach helps
c) in the most sticky situations, I found that allying with the enemy pays off. Often, there is a leader of the "hostiles". It is easy to spot him. I would try to involve him in any capacity... for example, helping me distribute the materials, or organize the room... once he was invested, he was the one who maintained order by kindly inviting other people to pay attention to the facilitator (i.e. addressing whoever made a comment with "shut the fuck up"!)
d) memorize the names of the participants, right away. If someone makes a comment to somebody sitting next to him, do not let it slide. Immediately address the person who made the comment by his first name and ask if there was anything useful they wanted to share with the group. Being singled out by name has a very cooling effect...

but again, these were experiences I had in "traditional" workshops, and this is what helped me, no science behind it...

hope you find this useful,
best,
Paolo

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