Challenging Encounters Training Info

This two-day training is a balance between Groupwork Institute input and opportunity for participants to focus on their particular requirements and challenges in dealing with difficult situations.

We work with you to ensure that our experiential training process meets the learning needs of your team.

Training Outline


Workplace training start times can be between 9.00am and 9.30am and finish times can be between 4.30 and 5.00pm, or as negotiated.

Day one

  • Welcome and introductions
  • Agenda and agreements
  • Understanding challenging encounters

Morning tea

  • People’s experiences of challenging encounters
  • How we are affected
  • What might be going on for the other party?
  • Listing the scenarios people want to address
  • The unconscious dynamics in challenging encounters


  • Using the Groupwork Institute’s model for working with the unconscious.
    • Understanding ourselves and our reactions to challenging encounters
    • Understanding the interplay between ourselves and others in challenging encounters
    • Using self-awareness to manage our emotional responses and remain centred in a challenging encounter
  • Applying these learnings to our list of experiences of challenging encounters

Afternoon tea

  • Useful micro-skills in challenging encounters
  • Input/small group discussion/practice – applying these micro-skills to our list of experiences of challenging encounters
  •  Evaluation of day one

Day Two

This day is primarily devoted to practice.

  • Reflections from day 1
  • Giving challenging feedback in a ‘hearable’ manner
  • Groupwork Institute’s Hearable Messages Model
  • Practice using participants’ examples

Morning tea

  • Continue working with participants’ examples
  • Negotiation skills – how to utilise them in challenging encounters


  • More practice – applying our learnings to our list of challenging encounters
  • Addressing any remaining issues and challenges

Afternoon tea

  • Taking care of ourselves
  • Reflection time
  • What have I learned?
  • What will I do differently?
  • Evaluation

Talk to us about your training needs

Training content – Challenging Encounters

This Challenging Encounters Training is a balance between Groupwork Institute input and a focus on participants’ particular learning needs and challenges.

The finer details of the content can be negotiated beforehand and further refined at the beginning of the training.

Specific input would draw from the following topics:

Understanding Ourselves

The more we understand our own inner ‘selves’ and their interplay, the better communicators we will be. First manage thyself! Come prepared to know (and accept) yourself better!

  • mapping our own Community of Selves
  • working with fears and other self-limiting messages that hold us back
  • developing the emotional resilience to manage our own reactions to challenging dynamics

Helpful micro-skills

There are a range of key micro-skills that are helpful in challenging encounters. These include:

  • naming without judgement what seems to be going on
  • hearing and validating people’s position and experience
  • normalise why others may be feeling upset
  • listening to understand
  • standing by people experiencing difficulties
  • enquiring further as to what is going on
  • high level micro skills that can help prevent high energy responses – ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it!’ This includes skills around:
    • giving hearable feedback
    • asking people to do things they are not happy about
    • dealing with people’s fears
    • saying ‘no’ when required
    • acting with compassion

Dealing with Hot Spots

Most of us have fears and avoidance behaviour around all sorts of challenging encounters. This will have a negative impact on our challenging interactions. We need strategies to deal with our own and others’ feelings and reactive behaviour.

This includes:

  • understanding and managing our responses to the expression of strong feeling;
  • recognising the ‘triggers’, causes and signs of possible challenging behaviour – and preventing escalation;
  • helpful processes for working through conflict;
  • challenging behaviour – domination, aggressive or manipulative behaviour, etc.; and
  • skills to intervene in dynamics you find particularly challenging.

Creating safety

Creating a safe environment can play a significant role in managing challenging encounters. This can involve:

  • ascertaining what others require to remain constructively engaged with the interaction;
  • finding the right location for the interaction;
  • helping people discover their own capacity to deal with flare-ups and high emotion;
  • understanding that if we can create safety – where people are truly heard – then transformation can take place. 

Negotiating with others

There are instances where high quality negotiation skills can make a significant difference to our interactions with others. This involves an array of skills:

  • good listening skills;
  • reflecting back what we have heard;
  • capacity to summarise the key point we are hearing;
  • being clear about the extent of our authority;
  • being aware of our non-negotiables;
  • being aware of other peoples’ needs; and
  • using BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)

Getting help  

It is important to understand that our interactions are often undertaken within a bigger context. External pressures can be at play but may not be clearly visible, so it is very useful to know when help is needed. This can include:

  • assessing whether mediation/professional facilitation will assist;
  • determining if people with other specific expertise can help;
  • asking for help when we feel out of our depth; and
  • being clear about what is acceptable behaviour – for ourselves and others.

Taking care

  • Keeping yourself safe
  • Self care
  • Recovering after a challenging incident
  • When all else fails – managing one’s self and others in the midst of challenging behaviour
  • Supporting others who have been involved in challenging encounters
  • The importance of debriefing
  • A process for peer debriefing

 Talk to us about your training needs

Capacity to undertake this training

We have worked as independent facilitators and trainers since 1984. A large part of this work has been to help organisations deal with complex and difficult issues.

Our experience has led to invitations to facilitate community forums and town meetings where controversial issues are being dealt with.

If an issue is highly charged and emotionally challenging – people need support to learn how to first manage themselves. Then, they can make their best contribution to finding a positive way forward.

It is this very broad range of experience that provided the basis for the development of the Challenging Encounters training.

Specifically our work in this area includes:

Work with Bundoora Extended Care (Hospital)

We have facilitated a series of workshops for staff on dealing with challenging encounters and aggressive behaviour with the public.

Work with VicRoads

A significant proportion of our work in this area has been with VicRoads – and extends back to the mid-1980s. Listed below are some of the areas we have supported VicRoads with.

  • Eastern Freeway Extension – we facilitated a series of training workshops for VicRoads staff and contractors to help them better deal with the demonstrations taking place.
  • Facilitation of a meeting between demonstrators and VicRoads contractors. The level of co-operation and understanding of each other’s reality at this meeting was quite extraordinary.
  • Goulburn Valley Highway Duplication – we ran training to help engineers deal with their own stress and the challenging encounters with the public during this project.
  • Office staff training – development of training for VicRoad’s staff involved in licence testing. The issue of peoples’ responses to licence failure is challenging and stressful to staff. This in turn led to training for counter staff in general, to learn effective ways to deal with the many challenges that they face.
  • Roundabout Controversy – we were called in to facilitate a community meeting in a country town to help find a way forward that involved the wisdom and experience of the township, the Council and VicRoads.
  • Geelong By-Pass – we facilitated a Technical Reference Group workshop exploring route options for the proposed Geelong By-Pass. A highlight of this workshop was cobbling together the participant’s knowledge of relevant issues and utilising this pooled wisdom to explore alternatives to the original proposal.

Challenging Encounters with the Public Training Workshop

As a result of all this work, we have developed a workshop model with a range of handouts especially designed for dealing with challenging encounters with the public.


We have had extensive involvement in peace-keeping work over the last three decades. There are a range of techniques used extensively by nonviolence organisations like Peace Brigade International, the Ghandi Institute and the Australian Nonviolence Network.

Over this time, we have trained peacekeepers for a number of major activities associated with nonviolent demonstrations and actions. With these actions, there were significant concerns about people surrounding such activities who may act in extremely agitated and violent ways.

Talk to us about your training needs