Managing the 4Ps of Delegates

Turning Passengers, Protesters and Prisoners into Participants

As Hector drives to work through downtown Portland, Oregon, his thoughts turn to the training workshop he is due to deliver that day and, in particular, to the attitudes of the people who'll be attending.

Hector is a manager at an engineering firm that recently bought its main rival in the city.

While the deal looks great on paper, in reality merging the two workforces is challenging. There have been layoffs, and consequently there is a "them and us" mentality that impacts people's engagement and enthusiasm for his learning sessions about team bonding.

Do you know your "passengers" from your "protesters"?

To understand what his people really think about taking part in the workshop, he decides to use a training and facilitation tool called the "4Ps." This categorizes them as Participant, Passenger, Protester, or Prisoner.

In this article, we explore what each category means, and how you can use the 4Ps to turn negative attitudes into positive ones.


Are these the 4Ps you were looking for? If you were looking for our article, The Marketing Mix and the 4Ps of Marketing, please click here.

Understanding the 4Ps of Delegates

You can use the 4Ps tool* in a range of group settings. It's most common in training workshops, but you can use it in team-building sessions, meetings or briefings.

If team members are coming to a group session feeling reluctant, disengaged, angry, or bored, or perhaps with a personal agenda, it can negatively impact the event's purpose and aims. The 4Ps brings these feelings out into the open and, from there, you can work to mitigate, or at least "park," them during the event.

Each "P" represents the most common type of attendee: Participant, Passenger, Protester, and Prisoner. Let's look at them in more detail.

Participant: this attendee, sometimes called a "Player," is happy to be there. He or she wants to learn, and is enthusiastic and fully engaged with the process.

Passenger: this person is physically in the room, but that's about it. He's just along for the ride. He has no intention of disrupting the session, but neither will he engage with it or play an active role. He may treat the session as a diversion from the "day job," or see it as irrelevant to his role.

Protester: she doesn't want to be there, and will let everyone know about it! A Protester will often disagree with everything, and generally go out of her way to make the experience as unpleasant as possible for everyone. Chances are, she thinks the session is an irritating addition to a heavy workload or is keeping her away from work with an important deadline. Or, she may be troubled by something completely unrelated to work.

Prisoner: like the Passenger, he is resigned to being there but, like the Protester, he feels trapped and just wants to escape. Unlike the Protester, however, he is not confrontational. Instead, his behavior and body language (folded arms, sullen demeanor) can speak volumes.


Some trainers also define a fifth "P," for Pilot or Partner. This attendee commits fully to the process, and guides or leads others in the group. From a trainer's perspective, having a Pilot can be valuable, but you mustn't allow her to dominate the group or "hijack" the event or meeting.

Using the 4Ps will allow you and your attendees to consider both the "what" and the "why" of their behavior. From there, you can try to turn any Prisoners, Protesters and Passengers into Participants. We explore how to do that, below.


For a deeper understanding of team or group dynamics, see our articles, Belbin's Team Roles, Benne and Sheat's Group Roles, and Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

How to Use the 4Ps Model

To look at how to use the 4Ps, let's return to Hector and his worries about the likely attitudes of team members at his training workshop.

Before the session starts, he places a flipchart in each corner of the room, with one of the 4Ps written on it. Alternatively, he could pin a piece of paper to the wall or just have a sheet of paper on the floor.

After everyone has arrived, and after he's explained the purpose and aims of the workshop, Hector points out the charts marked Participant, Passenger, Protester, and Prisoner, and explains what each category means.

He wants each person to stand next to the "P" that represents his or her real feelings about the session. However, he knows that, when people are "put on the spot," they might not give an honest answer, because they don't want to be seen in a negative light.

So, to introduce the exercise in a non-threatening way, he first asks everyone to pick where they'd stand in a hypothetical scenario. He asks how they'd feel if a friend asked them to go for a long hike in the woods.

He then asks them to explain why they chose their particular "P." He discusses with the Protesters, Prisoners and Passengers what changes need to be made, either externally or within themselves, for them to move to the Participant corner.

Hector repeats the exercise with another scenario, to get people comfortable with the 4P thought process.

The third time, however, after emphasizing that there is no judgment or "right" answer, he changes the scenario to, "How do you feel about being in this training workshop?" and asks for their honest opinion.


Be sure only to use this technique with people that trust you and one another, and in a working environment that is free of blame and fear. If you have any doubts about the group's sense of safety and openness, simply observe and assess participants' behavior for yourself and adjust your facilitating style accordingly.

Seeing that he has one or two Prisoners, Hector encourages them to explain their reasons, and they discuss what they could do to turn themselves into Participants. This may include exploring any concerns they have about the session itself or other work issues, and whether they can be set aside during the workshop.

We look at how you can win over Passengers, Protesters and Prisoners, below.

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Turning Passengers, Protesters and Prisoners Into Participants

Here are three ways that you can help attendees to move from any of the negative Ps to Participant:

1. Be positive. Explore how you can change negative thoughts to positive ones by encouraging collaboration and openness. Use open questions to engage the Passenger, Protester or Prisoner, and explain the benefits and useful outcomes that he can expect from committing to the session and playing an active part.

2. Emphasize that you're not trying to "fix" the other person. Your goal is to get your team member to engage with the session, not to resolve any other issues or behaviors. If external issues are impacting his behavior in the session, agree to meet with him afterward to address them. In the meantime, encourage him to put those concerns aside, and focus on the aims and purpose of the workshop.


Your team member is unlikely to be openly defiant in a work situation, but she may display disruptive, negative behavior, such as complaining, sarcasm or demonstrating a poor attitude. This should be dealt with swiftly, and you can find out how to do this with our article, How to Manage Passive-Aggressive People.

3. Don't take it personally. When faced with a disengaged team member, you might feel that you are the one he is unhappy with. But, as we've seen, it's far more likely that there is another reason. So, don't get defensive or confrontational. Show that you recognize there may be an issue behind his behavior, and that you're prepared to discuss it calmly and respectfully.

Pitfalls of the 4Ps

Be aware that the model does have its weaknesses. First, it relies on team members being prepared to be open and honest about themselves, and that may not always be the case.

Second, if it's not used carefully, it may be seen as critical and judgmental. It could end up increasing the tensions or resistance that you were hoping to minimize.

Third, because it's a reflection tool, it does not help you to resolve the behavior that is causing someone to be a passenger, protester or prisoner.

Key Points

The 4Ps is a tool that you can use to bring resistance or disengagement out into the open, and work to mitigate it, during a training session, meeting or other group activity.

The "Ps" stand for Participant, Passenger, Protester, and Prisoner. Sometimes a fifth, Pilot or Partner, can be added.

It is an easy-to-understand tool for facilitating training or understanding group dynamics. But it may need to be complemented by further skills in managing "difficult" or "bad" behavior and conflict, especially in a new or hostile team, where trust is lacking.

Apply This to Your Life

Given that the 4Ps is a tool to encourage self-reflection, it could be a useful exercise to try out in your own life.

It allows you to take a step back from a situation and ask yourself how you're behaving, or how others might interpret your behavior. If you see yourself as anything other than a Participant, you can think about what you need to do to change your approach or outlook.

It can also be valuable for thinking about your career progression. For example, are you an active Participant, exploring or creating opportunities? Or are you a Passenger in your own development? Perhaps you feel that you have been placed in a role that doesn't match your values, or that doesn't make the most of your strengths and talents, and you feel like a Prisoner or Protester. If so, read our article Managing Your Career and start making changes!

*The origin of the 4Ps of delegates is unknown. If you know who originated it, please contact us.


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