THE BLOG
11/30/2016 01:26 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2017

You Just Can't Hug A Porcupine!

Let's face it, there are some people in this world we are destined to not get along with. Try as you might, it just isn't meant to be. But sometimes the desire to win over certain people can have disastrous effects on others, and this is never more true than in front of an audience.

One of the unique challenges of delivering workshops is working effectively with the various personalities that populate your audiences. Most workshops tend to last longer, and have smaller crowds, so it's not unusual for there to be a lot of contact between speakers and their audiences. Some participants talk a lot, and some are quiet. Some are funny, and some are not. But some are just not nice, and those porcupines are the ones you need to beware of.

Clearly our goal, as well as our instinct is to get along with everyone. That means if there's a porcupine who isn't particularly pleasant, our reflex is to make sure we do everything we can do to get along swoops in to save the day. That's not just what a presenter does, that's what a leader does, and that's what makes this issue such a difficult one. You see often in this particular situation, our instinct is wrong.

So, is Rob Jolles actually saying to go to battle with all porcupines?! No, but Rob Jolles is saying to not be fooled by thinking the best way to deal with those who aren't pleasant is to kill them with kindness. It just won't work.

First, you risk losing the rest of those who are toeing the line and who you actually want to work with. We've all seen these porcupines that hold a room hostage with his or her inappropriate behavior. The "I'll turn this person around if it's the last thing I do" drive kicks in and the presenter gets to work. They fawn over them, and generally bend over backwards to do everything in their power to win over the porcupine. They work so hard for so long that sometimes they actually succeed! But at what cost?

You may win the battle, but you'll absolutely lose the war. Audiences aren't stupid. Not only do they know when someone's inappropriate, they know when the presenter is working a little too hard to get on his or her good side. The audience not only perceives this as a reflection of weakness, they see a presenter actually rewarding bad behavior.

By the way, other than watching the rhythm of a program completely throw off by wasting a ton of time trying to placate the porcupine, how many times have you actually witnessed a presenter truly successfully turn around a porcupine's ridiculous behavior by simply being nice?

The solution is easier than you than you think, but harder than you might imagine; leave the porcupine alone. Remember, no matter how long you there is no quota system for participation. When it's time to ask him or her a question, make it a fact-based question so there's little wiggle room for pontification. When it's time for a small group activity, you assign the leaders and spokespeople for each group. Hold questions from the audience to the end of each segment, and don't be afraid to take a porcupine's question offline if it's inappropriate. It's your program, and you're rules; don't be afraid to tighten those rules for the sake of the rest of the audience.

The fact is you just can't hug a porcupine. If you try to, you'll feel the pain of a porcupine who is well vested in his or her behavior and doesn't want to be hugged, and an audience who will lose respect for you if you do. I'd suggest you trust your instincts if you actually did see a porcupine walk into your program. Leave it alone!