I love resistant participants…you know the ones with their arms folded and scowls on their faces that declare their goal for the day is not to participate. They have the most to learn. I thrive on that challenge! It’s not ideal, but there are tactics to use to open people up and get ready to tackle problems and reach resolutions during a meeting.
The best way to deal with people who flat out don’t want to participate in a meeting is to step back and reset their negative mindset. The easiest (and most fun) way to do this is with a good ice breaker.
Ice breakers do just what it sounds like, break through the icy exterior of a potentially hostile group of individuals through fun team building exercises. The goal is to stop negative behavior before it can gain traction and spread to the rest of the group. Ice breakers are usually used when the participants don’t know one another very well, but not always. People are complex beings, there is always something new to learn about someone else, sometimes it takes a little fun to draw someone out and open up to their peers.
For smaller groups an effective ice breaker can be presented to the group as a whole and answers can be shared by each individual with the entire group. For large groups it’s a good idea to pair off or into break into smaller groups for more intimate conversation and brainstorming. When everyone returns back to the group, the small group shares one or two things they learned from one another.
Below are some example ice breaking questions that can provide insight into the participant’s personality and creative capabilities. Make sure the ice breaker can not be answered with yes/no. The idea is to kick start the thinking process so participants can begin team building by stepping “outside the box”.
- If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be?
- If you woke up tomorrow as an animal, what animal would you choose to be and why?
- If you could choose an imaginary friend, who would you choose and why?
- If you could choose your age forever, what age would you choose and why?
- If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?
- What are your ten favorite foods?
- If you were a candy bar, which candy bar would you be? Share why.
- If you were to change your name, what name would you adopt going forward? Why?
- If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items would you want to have with you?
- What item that you don’t have already, would you most like to own?
- If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be? (i.e. May the road rise up to meet you and the wind be always at your back.)
- Pick something out of your pocket or purse and share with the group why it’s important to you.
There are also teamwork games that can be ice breakers to kick off a meeting, re-energize the group after lunch or re-focus during a lull of the afternoon. Here are some of my favorites!
- LYCRA TUBE: Sure it’s a “tight fit”, but it’s a great way to get your team members to bounce off of each other – figuratively and literally. A great way to boost energy after lunchtime!
- SWITCH, CHANGE, ROTATE: Your team members may get confused, and they will probably get a little dizzy. As long as they pay attention and have a good memory, they should be just fine.
- MOST OUTRAGEOUS: This game leaves the answers up to the participants, as they look to find something in common. The quirkier the fact, the better!
- FOREHEAD: Pick a card, any card. This particular game actually tests how we may look at people every day, whether we know it or not. A variant of a popular team building exercise involving index cards, on which character traits are printed.
- BACKTALK: Visual version of the “Telephone Game”, where information is passed – and altered – from one person to another. Here, people’s drawing skills are put to the test.
These activities are always a lot of fun not just for the participants, but for me as the facilitator.
How I Dealt with Resistant Participants
Here is a good story of how I used my powers of persuasion via an ice breaker to get a tough group to participate. I was asked to present a 20-minute keynote at a luncheon for 80 members of a local organization. I was told they were resistant, impatient, and defiant. Few people knew each other and they didn’t want to be there. I was asked to help them get to know each other better and communicate better – in those 20 minutes. I told them I didn’t do miracles.
Now I could have talked about communication processes and bored them to death. Besides when people are eating, they are minutes from napping. My work was cut out for me.
I broke them into pairs and asked them to answer one question: What was the most outrageous thing each pair had in common? Partners left for a quiet place and returned 5 minutes later. When they shared their answers with the room, people were falling off their chairs laughing! I even turned red a few times. They learned more about each other in 5 minutes than they would in a lifetime. Better yet, they didn’t want to leave.
Getting participants to participate can be a challenge. My secret: keep everyone engaged with interactive, fun activities. But first set the tone to minimize resistance.
Rules of Thumb for Good Participation
Aside from ice breakers, there are general rules of thumb to follow to nip the “I don’t want to participate” attitude in the bud before/during a meeting or a corporate team building day.
- Get the group to say “yes” or agree on something at the beginning of a meeting and at intervals throughout team building days, even if it has nothing to do with the task at hand
- Manage disagreements by making sure each participant has their say
- Acknowledge someone’s idea and make sure to give them clear credit
- Always show respect by being sympathetic to participants ideas and goals
- Encourage group discussion and brainstorming by letting ideas flow naturally at their own pace
Larry Lipman Can Break Through Icy Participants
Larry Lipman of Fun Team Building has been facilitating team building meetings for over 20 years. He has vast experience getting participants to open up and work effectively as a team. Call Larry at 770-333-3303 to set up a free 15 minute consultation.