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"There’s one in every group!" Part I - Define interruptions during training
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 06/08/2009

Goofing in class How many times have you seen what promised to be a positive training event turn sour because someone in class had an overriding compulsion to make unnecessary distractions? Despite the knowing eye rolls exchanged by quieter colleagues, the interrupter will not relinquish the floor to the facilitator without difficulty. At training time, this phrase rings particularly true: “There’s one in every group!”

Classroom instruction in corrections is often a refreshing way to productively step away from the front line of work in a prison or a jail. It is a time to consider the larger picture and reflect on what has been learned while on the job. Ideally, a good training session consists of professionals with positive attitudes about instruction, a capable and interesting facilitator, and a fascinating and pertinent topic.

But the chronic interrupter can destroy that ideal.

Granted, simple classroom etiquette invites sharing from participants. But it also discourages unnecessary distractions. There are five major perpetrators of Instruction Interruptus, a veritable A-list of discourtesy. They are the Inpatient Information Seeker, the Attention Monger, the Apple Polisher, the Loquacious, and the Malevolent. Of course, these are archetypes. It is possible for anyone to fulfill all of the following types in one session. These are the five primary styles.

Impatient Information Seeker – This variety of interrupter usually has burning issues and an unquenchable drive to obtain immediate answers. The urgency of response outweighs basic consideration for other participants. While most will agree that it is wise to ask questions, it seems that the Impatient goes too far. When deeply engaged in the info-quest, the inquisitor seems oblivious to the muttered comments of their neighbors. Time and other concerns do not exist for the Impatient, even if the instructor promises to cover all topics and respond to all concerns.

The Attention Monger – It is occasionally good for participants to support lesson points by offering a quick and pertinent anecdote. However, some colleagues make it into an autobiographical exercise. The Attention Monger transforms a module meant for everyone into a personal story session. Whether or not oblivious to their selfishness, they forge ahead with their own tales. And the narrative is often just tangentially connected to the original point.

The Apple Polisher – This sort has many monikers such as kiss up, brown nose, fawner, Eddy Haskell, and sycophant. Many more blunt expressions to describe the obsequious behavior spring to mind. Fundamentally, the goal of the Apple Polisher is the same as the Attention Monger – to get attention. But while the Attention Monger focuses the discussion towards the self, the Apple Polisher centers on over-complimenting the instructor. The subtlety or bluntness will vary, of course. But the common thread is an attempt to get in the good graces with the trainer. This is particularly distracting because others find such ingratiation sickening and without purpose.

The Loquacious – This kind is a talker who, unlike the Impatient Information Seeker, is usually aware that they distract from the instruction. However, they simply put less value on the education than their own soliloquy. The Loquacious believe what they have to say is vitally important, even if the trainer has the floor. Mainly, the Loquacious is not addressing the entire group, but merely a few cohorts. And the would-be listeners are not always willing receptors. This form of interrupter is usually the source of many lengthy side conversations that derail the most seasoned speakers. The talker is often aware that others consider them as rude, and refuse to concede until coerced.

The Malevolent – This malicious interrupter goes beyond simple disrespect. There is also an undertone of revenge in the heckling. The goal is to discredit the instructor. Even if the Malevolent truly agrees with every aspect of the lesson, in a calculating manner, he will negate at key points. This type is conscious of all sabotage.

These five types are thorns in the sides of even the best prepared speaker. What harm does this gang of five create? And how can a facilitator regain control and drive important lessons home? What strategies can an instructor employ to maintain an atmosphere conducive to learning while avoiding heavy-handedness?

The answers to these and other questions can be found in “There’s one in every group! Part II - Defuse interruptions during training” – coming soon.

These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page


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  3. CHZBURGR on 07/15/2009:

    In Idaho instructors are required to go through POST instructor development. In that class we learned several effective ways to deal with these types of individuals. When the training is interagency it should be able to be handled by either an instructor or possibly a supervisor that may be present. The problem gets bad when it is a superviosr doing it. I instruct defense tactics and will usually employ the assistance of the clown because usually this type of person is a kinesthetic learner and will engage in the training this way.

  4. Chuck on 06/03/2009:

    We have probably all seen these type of interruptors in our classes without giving much thought to them except to register annoyance. I do fire, safety and sanitation training almost weekly and deal with these types regularly. In my early days they could wind up derailing an entire classroom lecture. I have developed my own ways of dealing with this type of interruption, but I am always loking for new ways to undermine the "one in every group" that is trying to make the class his own personal forum.

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