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How do you deal with ‘wise guys’?

About a month ago, Vesna Sodnik asked this question on our Effective and Fun Training Techniques LinkedIN group. She was looking for ways to manage the “know-it-all” participants.  Here are a few of the suggestions that were shared online, which capture the breadth, diversity, and wisdom of our community. Thanks to all who contributed to this discussion!

Volunteer – Vacationer – Prisoner

Ask participants to categorize themselves and identify whether they are a:

  1. Volunteer (Wanted to attend)
  2. Holiday Maker (Being here is better than normal work activity)
  3. Prisoner (My Boss made me come and I don’t wanna be here if given the choice / I know this already)

Split the class into these 3 groups and get them to write on butchers paper what they would like to gain from you or what they can contribute to make the session as enjoyable and beneficial to them as you possibly can. I try involving the participant and tap on their experience – explain a concept and then reference to the ‘troublemaker’ and say what are your thoughts on this, John? The feeling of self-importance usually brings them back in line and they look at you an ally rather than the competition, resulting in an immediate change in behavior. Posted online by Reyna Mendes (and Robert “Alan” Black – who added “Visitor” to the list)


In the Indian culture we have an approach in dealing with people in all areas of our life. The approach has four paths — Sama, Dana, Bheda and Danda — all were the political methodologies prescribed in ancient times and were to be contemplated.

First is Sama: political conciliation, a humane approach such as an appeal with logic or reason.

Second is Dana: a sacrifice or a gift or an incentive

Third, Bheda: selective discrimination/differentiation

Finally Danda: punishment

This is a 5000-year-old recipe from India. Management experts have found this to be true now! Here’s what it might look like within the context of the classroom.  Take each of the techniques in consecutive steps:

  1. ‘Sama’ – Coax and cajole to bring about the change in that participant’s behavior. If he doesn’t budge, then use the second technique,
  2. ‘Dana’ Gives an incentive or /gift/souvenir in the sense of taking his version. Allow him to talk, give him space to express, etc.If this also fails, use the third,
  3. ‘Bheda’ -making discrimination. Treat the arrogant participant as a special person and hold out a threat. It could be a warning or an indication that something unwanted may happen if proper steps are not taken to bring about a conciliation. In other words, they will have to face consequences if they do not stop their behavior. When all these are exhausted and nothing works, the fourth and last is show him
  4. ‘Danda’- ultimate punishment which he richly deserves when all other methods fail to contain him inside the classroom. Show him the door to exit! Simply, ask him to leave.

This methodology has stood the test of time for more than thousands of years! Posted online by both Sai Bhupalam and Subramanyam Jambunathan

The story of unexpected influence

I recently spoke to a class that I was warned might be hostile. I began the class with a story of how a young lady had acted like a jerk around me. I explained, “What she still doesn’t know is that I later had an opportunity to influence a hiring decision in which she was a candidate.” (The moral of the story: your behavior has consequences.)  Posted online by Walter Boomsma

Boxes of Hope, Fear and Contribution

In the beginning of a session, Draw a picture of 3 boxes or you bring 3 boxes and name them: Hope, Fears, and Contribution. Ask each participant to write on 3 pieces of paper: 1) what s/he hopes to gain from attending this course; 2) fears in attending the session; 3) a contribution they hope to share.  Have them put their papers in the boxes where you can read, summarize, and try to respond to all of their expectations.  Posted online by Roy Abou-Habib

Positive Peer Pressure

It’s amazing what happens when people who want to be there or who want the training and are not able to engage effectively; they get fed up with “the wise guy.”

Group Discussion:  Let these folks help you by formally or informally facilitating a group discussion about ground rules.   Just before a break (scheduled or not) ask the group three questions:

  1. What’s one thing I can do more, better, or differently as the trainer to make this training more effective as we continue?
  2. What one thing you can do as a participant more, better, or differently to get more from this training?
  3. What is one thing you would ask your team to do (more, better, or differently) to make the day effective?

Team Up: If I need to create small groups for an exercise, I’ll ensure that the “wise guy” ends up in a group with two strong and positive people. They will typically tell him/her the behavior is inappropriate and to tone it down.

Use the comments: Lastly, I try to take whatever the wise guy says -even the barbs and quips, acknowledge them, and then bridge them to something “positive” or somewhere I want to go. I know sometimes this can make it seem like I am giving him or her power, but actually, I believe ( and have been told) it is a great demonstration for people in the room of how to handle issues that happen when they are challenged at presentation. Posted online by Ellen Simes

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