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Last updated May 5, 2017

If you are responsible for training staff or volunteers, you’ll know how disruptive it can be when one person keeps butting in, side-chatting or arguing with everything you say. In most cases, the rest of your participants are feeling just as frustrated, so it’s important that you deal with the behaviour and get things back on track. Here a few quick tips for dealing with side-chatter or “constant contributors”.

Walk halfway towards the person being disruptive.
In most instances, as you get closer to them, they will start to quieten down. If you need to, stand right beside them as you deliver the next part of your training. They are unlikely to carry on with side-chatter if you are standing closer enough to hear.

Stop talking and wait for the side chatter to stop.
The sudden silence from the front of the room highlights the noise their conversation is making. You often don’t need to say anything for people to realise you are stopping for them. The rest of the room will know exactly what’s going on.

Address the conversation head-on.
Ask people who are chatting on the side if they ‘need a moment to finish their conversation?’ or ‘is something they would like to share with the group?’. You need to use this strategy carefully, so people don’t feel embarrassed or put on the spot.

Acknowledge contribution.
If there is one person who has a story or example for everything, acknowledge their contribution then suggest ‘we’ give someone else a turn to speak. Make it a ‘we’ statement, not a ‘you’ statement, so it feels like you’re both on the same side.

Put you hand up to halt an interruption.
For the person who consistently butts in, put your hand up to halt an interruption and point to the person you would like to give an opportunity to. Keep your hand up to indicate that you will point to them when it is their turn to contribute.

Talk to the person at break.
Be polite and acknowledge their skill level, then suggest they give others the opportunity to contribute.

Give the ‘disrupter’ a job.
Give the disruptor a job like writing on the whiteboard. Not only will it make them feel important, while they are busy doing the job, they can’t interrupt.

Managing disruptive behaviour is important not just for your sanity, but for the benefit of everyone else in the room.

Kerri Tilby-Price
Kerri is a Facilitator / Trainer with Exult and has over 20 years experience working in and for the community sector.

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