Moaners, Groaners and Heel-Draggers: 3 ways to engage training and development participants who resist change

Moaners, Groaners and Heel-Draggers: 3 ways to engage training and development participants who resist change

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Training and developing people is supposed to facilitate change and provide a positive experience, a successful outcome and better lives for the participants. Yet change is a phenomenon that always seems to generate fear, resistance and heel-dragging.

It is vital that change-makers, leaders and educators of all kinds know how to apply the top 3 techniques for engaging reluctant participants to ensure a successful learning and development program.

You are about to be given these secrets.





Humans have always tried to exert control over their lives to gain
favourable circumstances and avoid unfavourable ones. This has been the
blueprint for our survival.


In Greek mythology, the story of the evil king Sisyphus illustrates
how experiencing a sense of no control is considered a greater torture than
hell itself. Sisyphus’s punishment was to roll a huge boulder up a mountain, forever.


As soon as change causes us to feel like we’re losing control over our
current and future experiences, we naturally resist. We run away from the change,
drag our heels, sabotage it or go into outright rebellion against it – for our
own protection.


Having a sense of control over our circumstances – by being able to
predict them, and plan how we will manage them – provides two vital benefits:


  •  It gives us confidence that we are facing a non-threatening experience that we don’t need to resist, and
  • It ensures a greater likelihood of a desirable outcome to that situation (because we can plan for it).

Change, especially when initiated by someone else, brings
uncertainty and distress. This stems from the feeling that we have lost control
and our ability to predict, plan and prepare for change.

To counter these feelings, we need to:



Remove the fear

When an unsuspecting employee is suddenly informed they have been
enrolled in a training and development initiative, they may assume that it’s
perceived they’re not good enough at their job; which naturally generates
defensiveness and resistance.

 To prevent this kind of disaster, here is one of the many techniques
I have in my toolbox, which you’re free
to use immediately:


Ensure that you praise/appraise
the participant before the training/development programme.  Doing this not only shows your informed
commitment to their development, but provides a platform from which to initiate
a consultation based on a recognition of skill, contribution and further
potential, instead of an identification of weaknesses.


In the pre-program appraisal,
highlight their strengths and achievements. Use explicit examples to tell them what
they have done well and what the business has gained from their contribution.  This verbal affirmation is a source of
efficacy for the individual, which is the single greatest motivator for an
individual to take positive action to create desired results in their lives. If
you cannot identify any achievements or contributions the employee has made, I
would strongly suggest revisiting (or developing) a thorough workforce plan.


(MainTraining can provide you with
holistic workforce


Explain to them how you intend to
use training and development as a way to take their skills and contributions to
the next level.

Use positive language (e.g., you
wish to build on their strengths), not negative (they need to be up-skilled to
fill gaps).


Finally, now that you’ve
increased their efficacy and willingness to undertake training, engage them
further by demonstrating the need for it. If the training/development
initiative is aimed at employees, explain the vital skills that are required to
meet the next 1-5 year strategic business objectives and that you see them as
being a part of that. According to Maslow, people can only perform at their
greatest when they have a sense of belonging and identity. Explaining where
they fit into the long- term plan provides this – and also a reason to make the
intervention a success.


 In short, clearly explain their purpose, relevance and identified role
in the long-term result of the change.



Allow them to plan

Predictability is vital to humans. It allows us to prepare mentally,
emotionally, physically; plan what we will say and do; and determine what
resources and experience we will require and so on.  This gives us a sense of control over the

Perceiving that we have no control or influence over a situation generates
worry, distress and dispiritedness.


As a leader, educator or instigator of the training/development
initiative, it’s important for you to recognise that participants who feel they
can plan, prepare for and shape a meaningful outcome are more likely to participate.


with the participants as much as possible about the training/development


For those you cannot meet in
person, you might create an online pre-course survey using a tool such as
Survey Monkey.


(If you would like a list
of pre-course survey questions that you can start using today, please feel free
to leave a comment below and I will share one with you for free)


You can further assist in their
planning and preparedness by using a thorough and systematic enrolment system.  If you
would like a tailored enrolment
for your course(s) or training organisation, contact us).
system should provide chronological detail of
what will happen, what will be expected of them, what they can expect in
return, the benefits to them, and so on.


Somewhere in this process, be
sure to give participants an opportunity to ask or express what they want to
get out of the training and development initiative. What new knowledge, skills,
mindset, attitude, or experience would they love to walk away with?


At the start of any course, I always ask my learners to write down
three ‘hopes’.  This helps me find ways to
embed the additional hopes and expectations into my training and add further
value for the participants. I let the students know when I have embedded an
additional element to the training to make them aware of their contribution to the
training. I always revisit these hopes at the end of the training to ensure that
all the planned and additional hopes and outcomes were fulfilled. When this
happens, nobody walks away feeling like they’ve had a negative or pointless


Provide relevance

Training and development that is highly relevant to a participant
ensures higher engagement, motivation, contribution, retention and completion

 We reject what we deem as irrelevant. Knowle’s theory of Andragogy
(the study of adult learning), says that all new learning must offer immediate
relevance to our lives for us to deem it worthy of our time, commitment and
brain capacity.


If your participants consider the training as irrelevant to them or
their lives they will be unmotivated, unengaged or even rebellious towards it.


To solve this,
contextualisation is the key.


In your description of the training, outline why and how it will be useful
to each participant’s life, job role, future and so on.


During the training, consistently
emphasise how every skill, nugget of theory and example is applicable to each
and every person, job role, and the business and industry they belong to.


Plan to do this. When
conducting employee training, I ask the client for a copy of their 1-5 year strategic
company objectives (or at least a condensed version); participants’ resumes;
and a copy of their two most recent performance appraisals.


This helps me plan my
training to have the greatest possible impact on participants’ attitudes,
behaviours, skills and knowledge. It also allows me to contextualise the
resources, delivery methods, language and learning environment for optimum
You can engage training and development participants who are
resistant to change by


•       Giving them awareness


•       Giving them time to
prepare and plan


•       Reinforcing relevance


•       Defining the purpose
of the training


•       Illustrating soft and hard values


•       Asking them for their


•       Getting to know them


 For more tips and techniques for engaging leaners and creating effective
development experiences, follow Sarah Cordiner on,


How do you engage the disengaged? I’d love to know. Please share
your expertise below!
Sarah Cordiner


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