passive objector

A common sight in training rooms across the lands is the passive objector. This lone creature does not disrupt the session but slowly draws the life and positivity out of the room like a Dementor from Harry Potter. The reasons for objecting can be varied but usually revolve around having been made to do something they don’t want to do.

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In many cases you find that the objector is either an older or younger member of the team. An older member might feel that they have always done something a certain way and it has worked for them so there is no need to change. Alternatively, they may feel that they are winding down in their career and so don’t want to start doing anything too new or dynamic. Of course there are many older participants who embrace change and development so you cannot discriminate by age.


At the other end of the spectrum are the young objectors fresh from college or university. They have finished their education so there is nothing left to teach them. On a recent course, trainer Alison Reeves (Write to Win) received feedback from two graduates from a training group who,

“Thought they knew it all.”

It then becomes a mission to try to break down this barrier the participants put up to prevent any new knowledge making its way to their brains. Often a battle there is no chance of winning.

Another fellow trainer was recently teaching a course on presentation skills only to be told by one participant that he didn’t need to take part in presentation training as he had,

“Done one at uni.”

Apparently mastery of a skill now occurs after one attempt. In that case, I’m off to become a rappelling instructor. I’m sure I’ve mastered the skill after my one attempt at rappelling down a waterfall in 2008.


So what can be done to win over these passive objectors? In many cases there is not much that will work but there are a few techniques you can try:

  • Giving them their time in the spotlight. They feel they already have a good knowledge of the topic so let them share what they know. They will probably be pleased to be the expert or they will realise they don’t actually know that much and start to join in.
  • Helping them identify something they don’t know perhaps with a survey or quiz. This allows them to focus on the part of the training where they develop that particular skill or technique.
  • Putting them in the role of peer support by pairing them with someone who is new to the topic and supporting them on the day.


There is a second species of passive objector. The one who acknowledges the value of the training but says there is no point because they won’t have time to put it into practice because they are always too busy and, by the way, there are lots of other things they could be doing instead of attending the training.

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The only real ways to win this species over are to really show them the tangible benefits of the course i.e. If you try this, it will take around ten hours to set up but should save you five hours a week from then on or it will help you increase revenue by 10% which should offset the time value spent on the course.


The most important thing to be done is to make sure that the company the training is for have a follow up plan for how the learning will be put into practice, have set a timeline and know how progress will be monitored. This will ensure the greatest value is obtained from the course.


If you are a training manager, or select those who undertake training, it is worth looking at the list – particularly on a mandated course – and trying to identify any passive objectors in advance. Then think about whether having them on the training will detract from the experience for others. If they have been selected because it is felt that their skills do need improving in that area, it might be a good idea to talk this through with them first to help them see that they do need to change. If this doesn’t happen, it is likely that the training will not be put into practise and they will just continue as they always have.



Maybe you have been the passive objector. If you are not sure, think about whether you have ever uttered these phrases:

“I’ve done this before.”

“I was told to attend but I don’t know why.”

“I don’t need to do this bit”

If so, spare a thought for the trainer who had no control over who is attending but wants to make the experience as positive as it can be for everyone.


The ideal scenario would be that one day the passive objector becomes an endangered species as more and more people value training as a crucial part of their personal development and profession.


I’m keen to hear your comments and thoughts on the topic whether you are a trainer, HR/training manager or you have been the passive objector in the past.

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