I've gone on at length about my love for building bridges between audiences of different minds within workshop settings. Basic workshop facilitation is a science and can be treated as such. In my experience, overcoming destructive personalities and contexts require a little more of an artistic approach.

I've designed and executed workshops at Fortune 500 companies across the country and it's almost always a blast. A cross between walking a tightrope without a net and lion taming without the benefit of a whip and a chair, the lead facilitator is the main attraction of a circus where the audience is just as much a part of the show as the performers. From a room full of warring parties -- to the lead client trying to take over the full agenda, I feel like I've walked through both the fun-house and the freak-show.

Everyone Loves a Train Wreck

In one of my first solo workshop gigs I ran across a rather prickly character I'll refer to as Eric -- The Fighter (I've changed all names to protect the guilty). Eric demanded that everyone in the room "respect his authority" and boldly declared that we were wasting his time as no agreement could be reached. He went further by declaring that any proposal other than what he wanted in the first place would be met with disdain and contempt.

Fighting back against a combative soul like Eric would advance into a confrontational and destructive dynamic. Good facilitators know that this tone must be avoided at all costs, because workshops are like fantasy land where suspension of disbelief makes anything possible. Once the tone of negativity has been allowed to spread, it removes the one ingredient that allows a workshop to achieve its aggressive goals; positive belief in the possible.

It is with the above idea in mind that a constructive response can be identified, but not just any constructive response. In order to be useful, the response must not only defuse The Fighter, but also engage them. My tactic is to entice them into something a fighter enjoys -- watching a train wreck.

This highly dangerous pivot is not for the faint of heart, but it can be done if you have a deep mastery of your subject matter. When presented with a challenge, don't make The Fighter wrong for challenging, and don't ask him to play along -- tell him you are up to the challenge and that achieving alignment is a mission that you know you can complete.