The guy (and it usually is a guy) who has been sent on the course by his boss because, basically, he has the emotional intelligence of a treestump.
He thinks the course is a waste of time – maybe he thinks others might get value from it, but not him. Let’s look at a few of the personality types (using the term very loosely) and how they might behave if you send them on a course:
The guy with zero self-awareness
He doesn’t understand why he’s there. In his mind, he does his job perfectly well, but the effect he has on others never crosses his mind. What he’ll do on the course: refuse to engage with any of the exercises, and stay glued to his phone, laptop, or tablet the whole time. He will often leave to take calls – if you’re lucky. Otherwise he might try and take the call in the class.
This one is in some ways worse. He probably does know the effect he is having on the people around him, and doesn’t care. Again, he will refuse to engage with the exercises (after all, in his mind, he’s perfect, so he has nothing to learn). Instead, he’ll treat his days on the course as time off.
He can’t actually go anywhere (too scared of his boss to actually walk out of the course, in case any colleagues on the course rat on him to his boss). Instead, he will spend the entire course chatting to his neighbours, distracting them as well.
This person resents being on the course at all. How dare they! He will take his anger out on the trainer, asking challenging questions the whole time, even if he knows the answers. He will take part in the exercises but no-one will want to work with him because he’s such hard work. You will recognise this guy – he’s the one sitting through a listening skills or rapport exercise with his arms folded in a defensive wall.
Psychopaths aren’t all serial killers or violent criminals. With an incidence of around 1% in the general population, it’s usually the low-IQ psychopaths with poor impulse control who go into violent crime. The smarter, more successful ones go into business, where it’s thought there is an incidence of 3-4% (source: Wikipedia).
Of all candidates, this person is the one least suitable to send on a course. He will take part in the exercises and soak up all he can learn – because he’s always on the lookout for better ways to manipulate people.
The trainer probably won’t spot that there’s anything wrong, because psychopaths can usually be charming. The people he meets may regret it, though, and the people that work with him definitely will when he goes back to his workplace to try out any new tricks he has learned.
The harried worrier
This person is a special case. They may actually be quite emotionally intelligent when they are allowed to be, but when they are sent on a course, their boss won’t allow them to fully concentrate on it. Instead, they are constantly interrupted with calls, emails, or texts about ‘urgent’ work.
Their attention is split between their mobile phone and the course. They dare not turn the phone off. And even if they fight against the temptation to check the phone every couple of minutes, the mental effort involved in resisting the temptation makes their IQ drop by several points.
Of course, any of these people will have a detrimental effect on the other course participants. If their boss really wants to throw some money away, the problematic manager will be sent on the course with the team they lead, so that the team members are not only distracted and stymied by the jerk’s behaviour, but embarrassed by it as well.
What to do instead
The #1 piece of advice I can give you to avoid the problems caused in the workplace by emotionally deficient employees is – don’t hire jerks!
And if you have hired them, don’t promote them to levels where they can do even more damage.
There’s an excellent book about why you shouldn’t hire or promote jerks (sweary book title warning)- The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, by Robert Sutton. If you happen to work for a boss like this, he’s also written The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt.
(incidentally, when I read the first book I was amazed by how forthrightly Sutton used the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, as an exemplar of how to be an ‘asshole’ at work (example of bad behaviour here). This man is currently President Trump’s national security adviser.
So, supposing you’ve hired a jerk, and you feel you’re stuck with him (you’re probably wrong about this, as no matter how talented and productive such people are, they are costing you more than they bring in because of the high turnover of staff who have to work for them). What can you do instead of sending them on a training course?
One option is putting your management team through a 360º feedback assessment such as the ESCI. If the person is genuinely unaware of how they come across to other people, and is willing to change, this can be helpful.
Another option is coaching. A good, strong executive coach can hold up a mirror to an individual and help them see how their bad behaviour risks derailing their career. If the individual is smart, coaching can help them to take the rough edges off their leadership style and at least fake treating others well. The motivations don’t matter, it’s the behaviours that their colleagues and subordinates will care about.