Sensitivity Training in the Workplace - Why Does it Matter?

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July 05, 2018

Sensitivity In the Workplace

Sensitivity training is in the news a lot lately - but does your workplace really need it? It is tempting to dismiss it as a "politically correct" concept that is all about getting people to learn to be less racist or sexist.

In fact, proper sensitivity training is not just about diversity, but it is about fostering a culture of respect, integrity, and accountability towards everyone. Although sensitivity training tends to be invoked after some kind of "incident," the fact is that every workplace needs to consider ways in which they can improve the workplace culture.

Properly-designed sensitivity training can:

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  • Improve customer relations by helping employees develop the habit of treating everyone like a potential sale.
  • Increase employee retention. A conflict in the workplace is likely to end with the departure of one or both employees involved, and employees who feel as if they are being treated with respect are far more likely to stick around.
  • Improve everyone's potential by creating a positive work environment. A positive environment improves morale and performance, particularly of diverse employees.
  • Encourage diversity and thus bring multiple perspectives to the table. Employees with different life experiences can and will view a problem differently and this can increase the chance of finding a good solution.
  • Reduce complaints and grievances, as well as conflicts between employees. This will free up HR's time, which might otherwise be spent resolving issues.
  • Improve productivity by freeing up time spent worrying about disrespectful behavior and avoiding the reducing in commitment and loyalty often associated with it.

Sensitivity training is not just specific "sensitivity" seminars where a speaker talks to the group about how, for example, not to sexually harass people. It also includes training on how to deal with difficult personalities, improve your emotional intelligence, deal with gossip, etc. Here are some ways your company can improve sensitivity and respect in addition to formal sensitivity training:


  • Make sure the people at the top lead by example. This also includes HR - in many cases, HR has a bad reputation before anyone even goes to talk to them. As human resources often have to deal with "incidents," it is vitally important that the HR department contains people who can properly handle and assess conflicts. When tough decisions have to be made, ensure they are made with sensitivity and respect in communication.
  • Set clear expectations. Make sure everyone knows not just what kinds of behavior will not be tolerated, but what the goals are. Avoid only providing negative examples, as that tends to foster an environment of doing the minimum, but also list behaviors that are considered highly successful and to be emulated.
  • Keep people accountable. This includes "high performing individuals" who are too often allowed to get away with acting like jerks. Make sure they are held just as accountable for their actions as a new hire. (More so, in some cases).
  • Examine your own behavior and encourage others to do the same. Work out what things annoy you, such as gossip, not returning phone calls, or meetings running late. Then develop coping strategies to handle them so that they don't cause you as much of a problem.
  • Learn your communication filters. One example of this is an age-related difference. Older individuals tend to respond to thank you with "You're welcome," whilst younger ones prefer "No problem." This can lead to conflict as those on both sides might feel that the other is not accepting gratitude properly. Communication filters can also be affected by gender, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. This is where actual diversity training comes in, teaching individuals how those with other backgrounds may communicate differently to avoid misunderstandings. This is particularly important if you are bringing in employees from overseas or even from a different part of the country. You should also educate yourself on differences in communication and body language.
  • Identify your blind spots. We all have biases somewhere. Talking through your biases with a career coach or counselor can help, making you aware of where the problems are so you can consciously correct (but not over-correct) for them. Learning to understand and accept your own biases is important, although it is not the only thing. Traditional group training where people have to admit to them in front of others may or may not work. Individual coaching can sometimes be better.

Traditional sensitivity training can be helpful. Also helpful are seminars on specific topics, including diversity, dealing with specific personality types, etc. Look at the demographics of your work place and plan training accordingly. For example, sensitivity training for dealing with the disabled is different from if you are having issues of race. Some other things you might consider doing are:


  • Arranging for cultural talks, whether by outsiders or by employees with a different background. If you have an employee arriving from overseas, have them talk about their own culture, etiquette, etc. This should go past the typical basic etiquette training.
  • Adding non-standard holidays to the office calendar. For example, if your office has a number of Muslim employees, put in the dates of major Muslim holidays as well as the start and end of Ramadan. Also include national and religious holidays of overseas clients. Be careful not to treat holidays on the calendar differently.
  • Look for training that develops sensitivity "skills" rather than just being a list of good and bad things to do, especially for human resources, managers, and salespeople. You should help your employees develop the skill to read communication and cultural differences and work around them without necessarily having the "manual" on the situation.


Sensitivity training is not just for people who have a problem or offices that have experienced an "incident." Instead, it should be part of ongoing efforts to improve the office environment and integrated into routine training. You should consider what kind of sensitivity training you and your employees need, and make sure that everyone is included. Take into account the demographics of your office (and your clients), and you can develop a sensitivity training program that will improve productivity and sales without coming over as "fixing" anyone. If you are looking for useful employee training seminars, coaching, etc, contact Lorman Education Services today.


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