27–29 September 2017, Churchill College, Cambridge

Dealing with difficult people: rapid prototyping of behaviour

A 90 minute Hands-On by:

Antony Quinn


Johnnie Moore


About this Hands-On

This is a workshop for people who want to get better at life’s difficult conversations.

The ones where there’s something at stake for us, something that we want. But where another human being is, ahem, in our way. We often devote a lot of energy to avoiding having them. We spend a lot of time in our head, or complaining out loud to our friends, about the difficult character of the person we would like to engage with but can’t.

Lots of courses are run on “dealing with difficult people” for this reason. These tend to be quite long on analysis and full of very intelligent sounding principles and frameworks. The trouble is that these courses idealise how we should hold our conversations. We think this can be disempowering -- few of us can really live up to these ideals and the effort to do so can either leave us feeling we have failed, or leave us in a space of restrained politeness where we’re just repressing our more animal selves, albeit more skilfully than before.

Difficult conversations are difficult. We don’t help ourselves by attempting to make them easy by mental effort, in fact that often just makes the psychological rut deeper.

And since difficult conversations have high stakes, we don’t normally get many shots at having them.

In this workshop, we’ll use a very specific type of role play where participants can experiment with different ways to have the conversation. With a big emphasis on playfully trying stuff out, and without putting too much effort into analysing or idealising. We think of it as the rapid prototyping of behaviour.

We see difficult conversations as an opportunity to experiment and uncover bits of ourselves that we don’t always deploy. It’s a process of discovery and it can be so much more energising and exciting than attempting to follow a set of rules.

We’ve developed this approach - we call it Action Storming - after many years working with and for difficult people.

About the Speakers

Antony Quinn

Antony Quinn is Head of IT Innovation at Camfed.org, an international non-profit organisation tackling poverty and inequality by supporting girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change. He discovered his love of coaching and facilitation when he became a scrum master in 2009. He's also an actor and improviser who applies his role play skills to leadership training in the NHS. He has run public workshops on interpersonal communication for The School of Life and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and conference workshops on applied improvisation for software teams at UX Cambridge and Agile Tour London.


Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore’s formative experience of dealing with difficult people came when he was PA to the first Lord Sainsbury. He encountered many more of them during his career in advertising. After a nervous breakdown, he began to understand better where he was going wrong. In his second career as a facilitator, he’s grown his capacity to understand better how groups function. His approach borrows from psychodrama, improv, and forum theatre, as well as wide experience in all sorts of organisations and cultures.


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