Sandra Bledsoe

What Is Sensitivity Training?

Sensitivity training focuses on making your employees aware of their behavior and attitude toward others. This includes individuals who are different in age, religion, gender, color, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other categories outlined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The training also teaches your employees how to be respectful of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and communication styles. Whether your employees are working in the office or from home, the ability to show empathy for how other people may be experiencing the world is a crucial step in creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture.

Image via Unsplash by Evangeline Shaw

The idea of treating everybody in the workplace with fairness and respect may sound simple, but often people fall back on unconscious bias and stereotypes when they make workplace decisions, such as who to promote or hire or invite to join a group. If they can’t identify and manage these behaviors, they can undermine your diversity and inclusion efforts and lead to claims of harassment and discrimination. That’s why it’s important to conduct sensitivity training.

What Are the Benefits of Implementing Sensitivity Training?

There are several benefits of conducting sensitivity training. These include:

  • Improve customer relations: Sensitivity training helps your employees develop the habit of treating each person as a potential sale, thereby improving customer relations. 
  • Increase employee retention: A conflict between two employees is likely to end with the departure of one or both of them. However, employees who feel as if they’re being treated with fairness and respect are far more likely to stay for a long time. 
  • Improve your employees’ potential: Implementing sensitivity training can help create a positive work environment, which can improve everyone’s potential. A positive work environment can improve performance and morale, particularly for diverse employees. 
  • Encourage diversity: Sensitivity training can encourage diversity, which brings various perspectives to the table. Employees with unique life experiences can and will view an issue differently, and this can increase the likelihood of finding effective solutions. 
  • Reduce workplace problems: Sensitivity training can reduce grievances and complaints as well as conflicts between employees. This can free up your HR department’s time, which may otherwise be spent resolving problems. 
  • Increase productivity: Sensitivity training can improve productivity by freeing up time spent addressing disrespectful behavior and avoiding the reduction in loyalty and commitment often associated with it. 

If you want to learn more about the benefits of sensitivity training, head to this article

What Does Sensitivity Training Include?

Sensitivity training usually includes the following courses:

  • Workplace inclusion, diversity, and racial sensitivity: This foundational course discusses core concepts related to racism, racial bias, sensitivity, inclusion, and diversity, providing practical steps to help your employees choose inclusive actions, address unconscious bias, and improve cultural competency. 
  • Unconscious bias: This course focuses on recognizing, understanding, and managing unconscious biases in the workplace, and the relationship between discrimination, diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias. 
  • Microaggressions in the workplace: This course discusses what microaggressions are and the impact they can have on others. It guides employees on how to respond to microaggressions in an effective and positive manner.

How To Implement Sensitivity Training

The bulk of sensitivity training involves self-reflection, which allows your employees to assess their values, feelings, and beliefs, and then realizing how these factors might affect how they relate with others in the workplace. 

You should keep in mind that the delivery of sensitivity training is crucial for its success. If the training is delivered poorly, it can have a negative impact on your company’s culture. Here are a few steps to successfully bring sensitivity training to your company:

1. Provide Complete Information About Content of the Training

Prior to the training, provide information for your employees about what exactly the training sessions will involve. Explain what is expected of them during the training. This can help reduce their anxiety about trying something new. If they know what to expect, they can concentrate on the learning and training rather than their potential discomfort with the unknown. 

2. Establish Learning Goals

Learning goals are the basis of each training session. These will emphasize the knowledge, values, and skills that your team will master by attending the training. More importantly, however, learning goals should be derived from the needs assessment — a formal, systematic process of determining and assessing training that should be carried out or specific needs of a group of employees or customers. Having clear objectives increases the potential and impact of your training by setting expectations and ensuring your employees that the topics being covered are relevant to the feedback they had provided. 

In turn, learning goals must be measurable. It’s impossible to support and sustain training sessions in the future without being able to speak to your training’s success. When it comes to establishing measurable goals, you can follow the SMART format. SMART stands for:

  • Specific: Objectives for the training should be specific to the training you’re conducting. 
  • Measurable: Learning goals should be measurable so that you can assess the success of your training session. 
  • Attainable: Your training’s learning objectives can be ambitious, but they should also be attainable or realistic given the factors at play. 
  • Relevant: Consider the significance of the training to attendees and the companies alike.
  • Time-bound: A learning objective without a deadline isn’t feasible. Thus, consider both the time for the training session and the time to implement the behavior learned in the workplace.

3. Clarify How the Training Will Affect Them and Their Work

Make clear to your employees that the training is their responsibility and they need to take it seriously. They are expected to apply themselves to the training process before, during, and after the session. This includes completing pre-assignments, participating in each session actively, and applying what they have learned to their work. 

4. Ask The Training Provider to Supply Pre-Work

If you hired a sensitivity training expert, make sure they supply pre-training assignments. Thought-provoking or reading exercises in advance of each session can promote thoughtful consideration of the training content. Self-assessments or exercises, provided and scored in advance of the session, can save a lot of time for interaction and new information.

These ideas will engage your employees in thinking about the topic of the session before it’s carried out. This provides important paybacks in terms of their involvement, commitment, and interest. 

5. Train Managers Too

If you plan to conduct the training without the help of an external training provider, make sure to train managers and supervisors either first or simultaneously with the other employees to make sure they know and understand the information provided in the training session. This will allow the manager or supervisor to model the appropriate learning and behavior, create an environment in which employees can apply what they have learned, and provide the clear expectation that they expect to see different thinking or behavior as a result of the training. 

Here’s an article that discusses the importance of sensitivity training for managers. 

6. Structure the Training

The structure of your training session can be “make or break.” Thus, it should be planned carefully after you have created the training’s learning goals. 

The structure provides you with a timeline to follow and will be indicative of how clearly you’re addressing your employees’ training assessment needs. You can share a simplified version of your sensitivity training session with your employees in advance so that they can be better prepared the day of. 

7. Provide Opportunities for Self-Reflection

To further promote sensitivity in the office, provide situations that prompt your employees to think about what they would do if a similar scenario occurred. This self-reflection is crucial for self-awareness, which allows your employees to neutralize their thoughts, actions, emotions, and feelings. 

With the right approach, your company’s sensitivity training will increase your employees’ understanding of their role in establishing a more equitable workplace for everyone.


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