The participant who drives you crazy is you!

Edgar Degas, Madame Jeantaud in the Mirror (1875)

I recently had the great learning opportunity to deal with a workshop participant who drove me crazy and rubbed me all the wrong way.

Why is this so great? Because, let’s face it: If I didn’t recognize parts of myself in her, I wouldn’t have reacted with strong emotions. I would just have thought (in my head, not in my whole body): “Oh, this participant does things that don’t work well. What can I do to help her?”

But when you see someone who does something you tend to do, and you see it from the outside, experience how your behavior must feel to others, that is a whole body experience of: “Why can’t you just STOP DOING THIS?!” And if I didn’t take a deep breath and looked in the mirror before reacting, I would be tempted to shout something like this. I think an important part of being a facilitator is actively feeling what is going on in your whole body (not just above the shoulders), observing it and then taking yourself beyond your immediate gut reaction. It may sound paradox but that’s what it is, you have to closely listen to your gut reactions, but then not just say whatever your gut tells you.

So what did I do when my participant just couldn’t stop doing it: Looking at everything from an evaluation or co-facilitation perspective, getting stuck in thinking and discussing about process instead of allowing herself to experience it? And keeping her group from the experience as well?

Well, the first thing I did was walk away and take a deep breath. Acknowledge that the participant who drives me crazy is me. And then I tried to think of her as if she was me: “What would be a kind thing that someone could say to me if I were stuck in the same way?” The “kind” part of it can be the most difficult one, because your gut may be far more ready to pick a fight, push, dragg and put pressure, than to open a door and get out of the way so the other person can walk through the door.

When I am the participant who is stuck in analyzing the process, it won’t help me if someone tells me to just stop thinking and get on with it. Because if I feel like something in the process is not going to work out the way I think it should, I can get pretty stuck and feel like this needs to be fixed. So what kind of door could I open for my participant that would be easier to walk through? Here is what I said: “Try to let your concern rest for half an hour, join your group in going through the process and let’s talk about your concern afterward.”

That is basically saying a number of things:

Your concern is valid.

You have permission to let go of it for a while.

You also have permission to pick it up again afterward.

Did it work for her? I’m not sure… but it definitely taught me a few things for my next group meetings – both as facilitator and participant.

I’d be interested to hear from you: Does this ever happen to you? How do participants show you your own face in the mirror? How do you deal with it?

7 Responses

  1. Every once in a while I have a participant who offers feedback about my presentation design – during a session, in front of everyone. While I’m not usually thrilled to get design feedback (especially when it’s a criticism) during a session, I totally recognize that this is what I do during sessions in which I’m the participant (though I usually just *think* the thoughts… and if I do say anything, it’s usually in the form of feedback on an end-of-training evaluation). My knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss the comment, and I usually just thank the person and move on. But the comments often play themselves over again and again in my mind after the workshop – sometimes just for a day or two, sometimes for weeks. And sometimes the comments find their way into future training designs…

  2. I resonate with “they are mirroring part of me!” Mama mia!

    • Now you are making me curious… What do they do?

      • 1. Dominate the conversation (I can do that!)
        2. Stay in their critical/criticising head (I can do that!)
        3. Go faster than their group and frustrate them (I can do that!)
        4. Not listen carefully (I can do that!)
        5. Multitask and check out (I can do that!)

        I often tease by saying I’m a horrible participant myself. But it is often the truth. So I have to learn from my “mirror friends!”

      • I can do that too :)

  3. […] The participant who drives you crazy is you! […]

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