Does Your Staff Need Sensitivity Training?

Corporate Sympathy Training

Is your business suffering from high turnover and decreased morale?

Sensitivity training could help.  Sometimes grouped together with diversity training, many businesses incorporate a form of this into their ongoing training programs.

At its core, sensitivity training deals with learning how to handle employees who come from differing backgrounds and who have different communication styles.

The training involves implementing ways of communication that doesn’t impair workflow.  Why should you consider sensitivity training for your employees?

This article will explain the benefits of sensitivity training as well as how to gauge if your staff could use it and what to expect.

What Does Sensitivity Training Accomplish?

Racism, sexism, ageism — all of the –isms we try to quash to make a harmonious and efficient workforce — are liabilities for your business.

Often, they are not easily spotted.  The shades of nuance in human communication are vast; often people will take away unintended meanings from a conversation or email.

Sensitivity training hones your employees’ emotional intelligence, and helps them identify and nip in the bud unwanted communication signals they’re sending out.

Consider a retail clothing business specializing in women’s wear.

It’s easy to see how a tactless employee could cause resentment among customers by making the wrong comments during his or her conversations with shoppers.  Read any “Agony Aunt” column in a newspaper or online and you’ll see people writing in about the rude customer service they received.

This is one example of a business that would benefit from giving employees ongoing training in empathy.  Interoffice relationships also flourish when team members use empathy in their communication.

Empathy, or the capacity to recognize feelings in others, is the key to sensitive communication.  If employees see what they are saying or doing will cause negative reactions in others, they are able to modify their behavior to be work-appropriate.

Let’s say one employee comes from a culture in which modesty is more valued.  This employee may not feel comfortable if asked to speak off the cuff about his or her accomplishments during a meeting or seminar, such as having recently earned a masters in business administration.

A manager who has developed his or her empathy can handle this situation without putting the employee in an uncomfortable situation — perhaps by thinking ahead and asking the employee to prepare remarks beforehand or by asking someone else to share the information.

What Happens in a Training Session?

In a good sensitivity training session, participants are asked to confront their own beliefs and strategies of communication, and work through them to find new ways to confront this situation.

This is often done by introducing a scenario, or showing a video or reading a story about a sensitive situation.

Participants then analyze this, identify the potential consequences and work together to find ways to resolve this or other similar situations.

Ideally, this technique allows participants to share their own stories in a “safe” place as well.  This also exercises participants’ problem-solving skills.

Sensitivity training also addresses negative feelings, reactions and opinions that appear in workplace environments.  After training, participants are able to recognize their negative feelings and make informed choices about how to deal with the situation in a different manner.

This not only improves their interactions with colleagues and clients, but also their internal outlook toward the company and their daily tasks.

Sensitivity training, when implemented effectively, helps your employees find new techniques for communicating with their coworkers and customers.

It also helps them refine their emotional intelligence to better deal with sensitive topics.  However, any sensitivity training program put into place should be done with plenty of thought beforehand.

Critics of such training state that poorly implemented training pushes people apart because it puts too much emphasis on the differences between people rather than achieving the objective of bridging cultural, generational or gender-related gaps.

Therefore, experts recommend thorough planning before implementing the training.

Once training begins, run a series of sessions throughout the year so it remains fresh in employees’ minds.

About the Author:  Violet Marshall graduated from a top-ranked business school and works as a communication consultant.


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