Video and transcript from Tomasz Borek’s talk at Austin’s 1st Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

This is part of the 2019 Control The Room speaker video series. Please join us for the Control the Room 2020, Feb. 5–7, 2020. Find out more and buy tickets here.

Control the Room 2019 was Austin’s 1st Annual Facilitator Summit with the goal of bringing together facilitators of all kinds to build rapport, learn, and grow together.

The conference opened with a talk by Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering.” After that, we moved onto 15 quick-and-powerful presentations by facilitators of all kinds.

Tomasz Borek

Within that group of amazing speakers, we were lucky enough to have Tomasz Borek. Tomasz shared a framework for identifying, classifying, and dealing with difficult people. His framework categories difficult people into five types: The Leader, The Introvert, The Indecisive, The Know-It-All, and The Negativist.

The Leader seeks power, and as facilitators, we can use that information to work with them. The Introvert seeks instruction, and we can provide guidance. The Indecisive seeks safety, and we can provide reassurance. The Know-It-All desires knowledge, and we can leverage expertise to comfort them. The Negativist seeks resistance, and we can involve them to unleash them.

Watch Tomasz Borek’s talk “Facilitator Challengers and How to Handle Them”:

Read the Transcript

Tomasz: Hello.

Speaker 2: Hello.

Tomasz: How are you doing?

Speaker 2: Good.

Speaker 3: Great.

Tomasz: Yeah, I was about to open with, “The Germans are coming,” But I wasn’t sure how this will play with you, so I decided I’m just going to start talking without that part. I stood up as one of the immigrants this morning because I’m actually Polish, born and bred, moved to Germany at some point. And finished my studies there and started working there and somehow got stuck. I did my first facilitation at the age of 18, actually, in front of very tough crowd because there were 14 to 17 year olds that were going abroad for a year. And I was standing in front of them to tell them about my own experience and facilitate them in something with regards to communication and culture theory.

Tomasz: As you can imagine, talking to 14 year olds about communication theory might be a little bit difficult sometimes, but it worked out well. And many years later I’m standing in front of you, because at that very moment, I realized what I want to do is facilitate; stand in front of people, train them on things and teach them things, and help them to get from one point to another. And two years ago I started a company with [Thorsten 00:01:33], you see two names there, I’m not going by two names. Thorsten is the guy that got the first applause of the day, this morning. He’s right there. Thor is my partner in crime, if you want to talk to him you can do it in the breaks.

Tomasz: We started a company, NEON Sprints, and we started working with a method that many of you know. And it came up frequently today, and it’s called Design Sprints. And since then, on a regular basis, we get groups of people in front of us, every two or three weeks, where we create a specific world for them for a week and we try to get them from one point to another. The method stays pretty much the same. The people change that are in the room. And what happens is, and I’m pretty sure that you’ve experienced this as well, is that, well basically, most of the time we need to manage people, not necessarily the method or the approach. We need to manage the people in the room.

Tomasz: And this is what I would like to talk to you about. And I actually wanted to kick you off with something this morning and then [Priya 00:02:37] came up with her fantastic talk, thank you very much for that, and for all the input that we got from her. But she basically destroyed fully my story [inaudible 00:00:02:44], “So who came by plane?” And “How far were you traveling?” And everything. And I was like, “Shoot, that was my line actually.” So I need to come up with something else.

Tomasz: Then I thought, “I’m going to try what she taught us, to some extent.” And I would like to ask you now, since the chairs have been quiet for quite awhile, I would like to ask you in a moment to stand up if you have ever experienced a flawed, or maybe even a failed, facilitation, which didn’t go the way it was supposed to go at all and didn’t get, at the end of the day, the things out that you thought should come out of it. Who experience a flawed or failed facilitation? Get up.

Tomasz: Thank you very much. Beautiful chair music. Very good. Please keep standing if, in your opinion, this was due to the fact that the team was composed in a particular way, or the people in the room were the way they were. Keep standing if you have the feeling that it had something to do with the team. Okay, quite a few. Now think about this again and the ones of you, please keep standing if you have a particular individual in mind. Or someone who made it very difficult. A few people are still up. Great. Why great? I’m not going to ask you anything right now, but thank you very much. You can sit down.

Tomasz: These are the people that I would like to talk to you about in terms of managing them. We call them facilitator challengers. These are the people that make it harder to facilitate. And I would like to tell you how do we look at them. Both Thorsten and myself, in all of those years before Design Sprints, and since we work with Design Sprints, decided that we try to make our lives a little bit easier.

Tomasz: So even though this becomes a little bit of a simplified model that I want to talk to you about, we looked at the different types of people that we had in workshops, and realized that if we recognize the type early enough, then we can manage that particular person in a particular way, making our life as a facilitator easier. And with that, making sure that the group gets to the result or to the outcome that they actually were striving for.

Tomasz: So on a mental level, when talking about facilitator challengers, we think about people that have specific behavioral traits, that have explicit or sometimes implicit power of influencing the group in a particular direction. They bring personal agendas with them to a meeting or to a workshop that sometimes have unresolved issues from somewhere, but kind of find their way into that particular meeting. And some of them have need for attention. And a way of finding attention is basically to speak up in a meeting at the moment where the facilitator feels like, “I really would wish you wouldn’t say that right now.” And something like this happens from time to time.

Tomasz: I would like to introduce you to the archetypes that we came up with, to some extent, or developed based on our experiences and other input that we got in the past. And these archetypes are the people that make our life a little bit more, I would say colorful, maybe. Rather than saying challenging. Yeah? So there is the leader, you probably know the leaders. I’ll talk about them in more detail in a moment. Then there are the introverts. Then you have the indecisives. Then there are the know-it-alls. Anyone ever met a know-it-all in a meeting or in a workshop?

Tomasz: And then there are the ones that are closest to our hearts because we like them the most. The people we call the negativists. It’s a little bit difficult to pronounce sometimes, but this is the type of people that we love to deal with. So if we know who they are, and if we know how they work, we can handle them somehow. I would like to talk to you about this particular bit and I would like to talk to you about this from the perspective of understanding what drives them. Because if you understand what drives that particular person, then it becomes much easier to deal with them in that workshop.

Tomasz: Sometimes you only have two hours with the group of people. Sometimes you have a day. It doesn’t really matter. If you have someone who constantly, you have the feeling, constantly works against you or at least is not working with you, it makes it really difficult for you to get to a result. And at the end of the day sometimes, and most of the facilitators wouldn’t say it out loud, but maybe the thought crosses your mind really with, “What is your problem?” I’m not sure if you ever said it, Thorsten is a person who would actually ask it. He did that in the past. I not. I wouldn’t recommend it in every situation.

Tomasz: But, you know, sometimes it just happens. So if you understand the driver, then you can apply also particular hack. We call them hacks, or a particular way of working with that person. So let’s briefly talk about these five types of guys. The leader. The leader is a person, and maybe by show of hands in a moment you can tell me whether you’ve experienced a situation that I want to show or explain to you. Have you ever found yourself in a meeting or in a workshop facilitating, and you were standing in front, you just started explaining what it’s going to be about. You set the scene, the framework, talk about the ground rules, however you called them.

Tomasz: And there was someone who was already nodding from the very beginning. Happy to be there, maybe, even. And after a while, even though you were still basically in the beginning of it, they said, “So can I just add one thing?” And then they started saying something and while they were saying it, they kind of got up from the chair a little bit, like this. Right? And it’s like, there is one more thing. And then they started walking through the room, ended up standing next to you, and then maybe even said, “Can I have the clicker for a moment?”

Tomasz: And then you, finally, you were here, there was somebody else there. You weren’t the facilitator, you were like, “What’s happening?” Have you ever had that? Anyone in the room? Yeah there are some hands in the air. So these are the leaders, they want to lead, they are used to doing things like that. And they are not really jeopardizing your meeting on purpose. They just want to, you know, take their actual role. Now when we say, in our perspective, they thrive on power to some extent, or they used to having power.

Tomasz: Now if you have someone like this in the room, what would you do? What we suggest to make sure that once you identified them, that they feel that you know that they are important. Everybody else in the room is important. The whole team is important, but they need to feel that they are a little bit more important than everybody else. If they have that feeling, if you address it openly, maybe, and maybe even you give them a task, something important. It will be easier for them to stay in the chair.

Tomasz: An important task is, by the way, not asking them to, “Could you please keep track of the time? That will be fantastic,” because they will be like, you have people for that normally. They need to know that they will be able to do something important, and you can give them a task that feels like it … Is it me making the noises? [crosstalk 00:10:26] moving like that now. And with that, with addressing them in that particular manner, it might make your life a little bit more …

Douglas: Try this instead.

Tomasz: Thank you very much.

Douglas: Turn that one off.

Tomasz: Okay. Is something happening behind me right now? Somebody’s in my pants. Yeah. That’s okay. Yeah, no problem. Thank you Douglas. So make them feel important and then the chances that they will jump up and stand next to you are smaller. That’s one type of people that you might have. Then you have the introverts. How many of you met the introverts? The introverts are the people that wish they are not there, or they wouldn’t be there. They are the ones … If you allow people to look in a screen, or in a phone, they will be looking at the phone.

Tomasz: If they have paper in front of them, they would have, you know, the paper rises until it covers their eyes. They are trying to avoid eye contact with you, and they just sit there and they’re thinking, “Okay, it’s one more hour and 58 minutes and then it’s over,” this is what they exude somehow. They kind of feel, I don’t want to be in this part. I don’t want to be the center of attention. Now what do they need from you in order to get them to do something, in order for you to be able to work with them in the meeting? You need to make sure that you address something in that particular setting that is relevant for them.

Tomasz: They want very clear and specific instructions. This is what makes their life easier, if they know exactly what to do and how to do it, so try to do that. Try to do that and give them exact guidance, “Could you please all right now take out the post-its, take the Sharpie, write the three following words on the post-it and then bring them up to the front,” for instance. We just heard a moment ago also about another technique, how you can make these people involved, or get them involved.

Tomasz: But the point is, if you do that, they feel then guided by you, they feel safer and they are not feeling, for instance, with something [inaudible 00:12:38]. The lady in the back, in the blue shirt, could you please stand up and right now tell me how do you feel about this particular part of our meeting, or what is your insight into it? Because if she was hiding behind a piece of paper for the first 15 minutes, this will be the moment when she will try to escape the room.

Tomasz: So this is how we experienced that. Then if you’re running Design Sprints, you know that there is a role that is very important, at Design Sprint and it’s the role of the indecisive person. Or better said, the role of a decider. If the decider is an indecisive type of person, your life becomes very difficult. They are driven by safety. They don’t want to … Rather than making a wrong decision, they wouldn’t make a decision at all. So they are like, “Oh, I heard all the input. I heard everything that she had to say, and taking all of this into consideration I would have to say right now, but in order for me to make a decision, I think we should get some more experts involved.”

Tomasz: And then you think, “Okay, but we have another 45 minutes, there are no experts here so I need a decision from you.” What are you going to do? So make sure that they understand what their decisions entail. They need reassurance. They need to understand that they also are in a safe space, that they cannot make a wrong decision, ideally. And that it will definitely move things forward in some form or way.

Tomasz: Then the last two, my favorites. The know-it-all. This is a person who has a lot of knowledge about things. They might be sitting very silently in the beginning of the meeting, leaning back, looking at you, listening to everything that you have to say. They will be following the discussions intently and at some point they will do this, and they will say, “Well before we move on with anything else, I really do feel that we need to make a stop right here. Because it’s not entirely correct, the way it was just phrased, and I do believe that in order for us to be able to move on, we need to first look at the details of things.”

Tomasz: And then they start with their monologue and they get into the details of things, and then half an hour later people do something with their phones and look to the left and look to the right. And it’s like, okay, are we going to get to a point where we can actually use that for something? I’m being colorful myself right now because I understand it’s 3:00 in the afternoon, you’ve been listening to many people. So what we learned is to use this knowledge from the very beginning, in a very targeted way, and make them into an expert.

Tomasz: From the very beginning I’m going to say we have Steve in the room. Steve has been working on this for 20 years, and Steve is going to tell us later, during this meeting today, exactly what are the points that we need to consider in order to be able to move on to the next stage. Ideally, obviously, I’ve spoken to Steve before the meeting that I will ask him to do that so that he just doesn’t stop me somewhere midway through. So that’s an option.

Tomasz: And then, and then ladies and gentlemen, the people closest to our hearts, the people that basically are driven by resistance. In a meeting, this kind of person potentially already has a body language that will tell you, here’s a negativist. They will have their arms crossed. They will be looking at you without any facial expression, and they will be trying to make you feel a little bit insecure, maybe.

Tomasz: And then once they voice their opinion, it goes something along the lines of, “I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve seen many projects with it. I’ve seen people come and go. I’ve seen consultants working on this. I’ve seen [inaudible 00:16:30] a lot of different approaches and I can tell you one thing, it is not going to work like that. It’s not going to work. And whatever we’re going to do here, it is not going to work.”

Tomasz: And in order for you to be able to deal with them, well we recommend to get them actively involved from the first or the second minute on. And you can make them into an expert too, by asking them directly, ideally, something along the lines of, “So from your perspective, with all the knowledge that you have, what was exactly the thing that did not work before?” That will be my getting into it with them. It’s not going to solve everything immediately, but it’s definitely going to involve them in a positive way.

Tomasz: If you ignore these types of people, all of them, your leader that you’re going to try to squash and put on the side, will become a negativist. Your introvert will follow the rounds that make them easier for them to leave the room faster. They might become negativists. The indecisive, the know-it-all, they all will potentially become the negativist. So make sure that you address them in the right way in order to make your own life easier. And I have one more thing that I would like to ask you to do. I would like to ask you to take a post-it in the break that is coming up right now, and I would like you to write on that post-it what was your most challenging situation in a workshop that is related to a participant.

Tomasz: Put this post-it on the wall behind the plant, over there, and then it’s going to be scanned, put into mural and we are, Thorsten and I, we’re going to try to match it with one of those archetypes. Maybe even with a short description of how do we understand that. Okay? And you can all access this afterwards, and if you want to talk to Thorsten or myself about this, or you want to get more input on that, you can find us here and we will be in the room afterwards. And I will run out of time like 17 seconds ago, hopefully? Not longer than that. Thank you very much.