How Trainers Should Deal with Prisoners, Protesters and Passengers

prisonerAt most training workshops, there are four types of attendees – particularly if people have been made to attend!

There are the 4 P’s:

  • The Prisoners – who are sat there screaming in their heads ‘let me out!’
  • The Protesters – who say out loud from time to time ‘ but that won’t work’
  • The Passengers – there for the ride, not really committed but also not disrupting proceedings.
  • The Participants – there to learn!

The next area to consider is that there are three potential states in a learning environment:

  • The comfort zone – attendees are simply thinking and behaving in their usual way and taking few or no risks
  • The learning zone – where attendees will be feeling slightly uncomfortable, but where they are prepared to take calculated risks and where they’ll learn most
  • The panic zone – where attendees are being made to look uncomfortable (eg potentially looking foolish in front of colleagues etc) and are unlikely to absorb any insights

The job of the trainer is to find the sweet spot. Trainers can do this by:

  • Creating a climate that is stretching for the attendees (but not too much!) and demonstrating support in the learning process
  • Demonstrating that they can be trusted that they won’t make participants feel excluded or stupid

Peter Block, author of the best book on consulting I’ve read, Flawless Consulting, has offered these questions at the start of a learning and development workshop to encourage engagement from potential Prisoners, Protesters and Passengers:

  • To what extent to you intend to get value from this workshop? (score out of 10)
  • To what extent are you intending to engage personally to achieve this? (score out of 10)
  • To what extent are you prepared to take risks to learn? (score out of 10)
  • To what extent are you prepared to take responsibility for the learning and development of others at this workshop? (score out of 10)

Trainers can choose how to run this process. All workshops are different. We need to judge when and how to make any push backs on the Prisoners, Protesters and Passengers. But carefully crafted questions can work wonders. Might they be helpful to you?

I’m grateful to David Gurteen for sharing the questions on social media.

For training challenges when working with different cultures, see:


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