How to Deal with Difficult U3Aers

by Graeme Eggins

THE problem of “difficult” members is a question that comes up from time to time in U3A committee meetings but is rarely publicly discussed. Yet anyone who has been a U3A member for more than a couple of years has encountered members who are hard to handle. Of course, we all have to admit none of us is perfect either. Problem people can fall into any number of categories. Here’s just nine of the most common types you may encounter in U3A.


This is the egotist member who invariably hogs the limelight, meaning that quieter, more polite members miss out. In discussions such egotists tend to dominate, imposing their views though a combination of a loud voice, persistence and a hide thick enough to ignore fellow members’ needs In classes the “Look at me” person repeatedly asks the leader for help – she or he expects the tutor to ignore other students until their needs are met. A variant is the Selfish egotist. They misuse mobile phones in classes, grab more free handouts than they need, demand services that are not available in some venues (e.g. tea making facilities), and may misuse U3A and borrowed equipment because they “haven’t got time” to read instructions. Some have held important posts in business and have never reconciled to being a plain old retiree.


Talkers are disruptive in classes, as they often chat to their neighbour while the leader is presenting. They also like shouting irrelevant comments to the tutor. Talkers may also cause trouble within a group by gossiping about others during tea breaks.


This person needs help. They may be suffering from the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s or some other disease. They are frequently confused and tend to inadvertently become a focus of a class leader’s attention. Some don’t realise their balance, for example, is not as good as it used to be and can tempt fate in a crowded meeting room.


By definition, we U3Aers are over 50 and have impaired hearing and eyesight. A tiny minority may refuse to accept they have any physical limitations. They repeatedly shout “Speak up!” when sitting in the rear row of a meeting. They also complain about the projector screen/ whiteboard etc being hard to see.


A pendant is a member who constantly goes on about the need to observe every rule and regulation, to “tick all the boxes.” A pedant can be, but not always, a retired male teacher. This is not surprising given that “pedant” comes from the 14th century Italian source pedante meaning” schoolmaster”. The pedant loves raising points of order at AGMs.

DON’T ASK ME – I’M ON THE COMMITTEE (AKA the useless committee person)

Every research project ever done shows that getting members to serve on management committees is one of the most difficult challenges facing Australian U3As today. So it is not surprising that if a member says they will serve on committee, they are accepted immediately. Unfortunately a small percentage of such people do absolutely no work. They attend meetings but that’s all – they sit quietly, rarely offering any solutions to current problems. They invariably refer members’ queries to other committee members. Why are they there? You can only guess they like being “in the know”.


These people mostly emerge on management committees but only after they have become an office holder. They bide their time until they have real power. They tend to make major decisions without consulting the committee; whose real role they feel is to applaud their brilliance. Dictators tend to hate paperwork – “a lot of bumpf” – and if they do write to other organisations, may forget to give a copy to the Secretary.


Fault Finders, aka the White Ant Brigade, often exist in classes which have been running with the same people for years. They may see themselves as the intelligentsia of their U3A and enjoy criticising office holders. They invariably refuse to take on the responsibilities of the people they white ant. When confronted, they always blame others