Sensitivity Training: How to Keep a Workplace Safe for Everyone


Many team leaders and managers incorporate sensitivity training into their operations to foster an environment of diversity and inclusion. Sensitivity training is a type of group training that focuses on making employees and employers aware of their attitudes, behaviors, and their impact on themselves and others. It mainly promotes social sensitivity and behavioral flexibility that ensures better individual and group dynamics.

Implementing this type of training into the workplace can improve your team’s interpersonal skills, strengthen relationships between colleagues, and help employees understand how to interact with one another positively. In today’s world, sensitivity training in the workplace is very important, because it is all about fostering a culture of respect, integrity, and accountability for everyone at your company.

What is Sensitivity Training?

Sensitivity training is a type of development opportunity that encourages participants to become more emotionally aware of their own and others’ perspectives, thoughts, beliefs, and biases. The primary goal of sensitivity training is to improve relationships between colleagues or coworkers from diverse demographic groups, such as those of varying ages, races, abilities, genders, religions, and ethnicities.

Most people have a misconception that sensitivity training includes seminars where a speaker lectures employees on how not to sexually harass people. However, this type of training encompasses a lot more than this specific topic. Sensitivity training also focuses on how to handle people with difficult personalities, how to improve emotional intelligence, how to deal with office gossip, and some more topics similar to these.

Types of Sensitivity Training

There are basically three types of sensitivity training that are implemented in the workplace. The three types include:

Stranger-Lab Sensitivity Training

This type of training program involves participants from different organizations who don’t know each other. Dealing with total strangers proves to be quite effective for employees as they will develop listening skills and get to know another person’s interests and concerns in a much better way. This will also help them observe other members’ behaviors and learn how to manage others.

Cousin-Lab Sensitivity Training

This type of training program involves all participants from different units from the same organizations. It mainly helps the members from other levels of the organization to get to know each other’s work and concerns. As all the members are from the same organization, this type of training also promotes team spirit and motivation to work harder for the organization’s success.

Family Lab Sensitivity Training

This type of training involves participants from a single unit of an organization who know each other very well. This type of training is usually implemented when employees have severe ongoing conflicts or their ideas clash a lot. This type of training helps them to have effective discussions to understand each other and their individual preferences while working.

Importance of Sensitivity Training in the Workplace

In this modern world, where globalization is at its peak, many organizations usually operate in different countries. Moreover, in recent times, anti-discrimination practices and diversity goals of an organization have compelled organizations to hire employees with diverse cultures and varying perspectives.

Hiring employees with different perspectives and cultures leads to creativity and innovation, however, this also raises several misconceptions and conflicts among employees. To avoid these kinds of issues, sensitivity training is required. This type of training serves as a tool that managers can use to encourage positive interactions between employees of various demographic backgrounds. If you are still skeptical about implementing sensitivity training in your workplace, here are all the benefits that you are most probably going to reap from it:

Increased Employee Retention

As said earlier, diversity and inclusion practices can often lead to conflicts or arguments among employees. These kinds of issues could heat up at such a level that employees might even leave the organization, and this ultimately creates a negative perception in the existing employees’ minds. However, with the help of sensitivity training, such issues can be resolved easily. This will not only promote a positive work environment, but it also increases employee retention rates.

Foster Relationships

Employees who undergo this training may strengthen both their professional and personal relationships with their colleagues, clients, and supervisors. Stronger relationships lead to other benefits as well, such as improved employee satisfaction and retention rates.

Encourages Diversity

Sensitivity training usually encourages diversity by making everyone feel comfortable, which can also increase innovation at your company. Moreover, by implementing sensitivity training in your organization, you will also experience fewer cases of harassment and discrimination. When employees get proper training to understand each other’s perspectives, they are most likely going to change their minds and will not behave in a manner that could be perceived as unprofessional or discriminatory by their colleague.

Boosts Communication

Sensitivity training promotes an environment where employees feel more comfortable talking to their supervisors about challenges they are experiencing or differences of opinion. Studies suggest that open communication between supervisors and employees leads to creativity in the employee’s work.

Boosts Productivity

Without sensitivity training, employees’ ideas might collide with each other, which might lead to disastrous results. However, when employees understand how to behave with each other, the chances of arguments or misconceptions decrease, which is going to impact employees’ productivity.

Reduces Complaints & Grievances

With the help of sensitivity training, employees know how to respect and listen to opinions, backgrounds, and points of view that differ from their own. This not only helps them develop empathy skills, but also makes them understand how they need to behave in the future with their colleagues from diverse backgrounds.

How to Conduct Sensitivity Training

You need to follow proper steps in order to receive the best results from sensitivity training. This type of training cannot be conducted without following a proper order, because each step matters. Below are the seven steps that can help you successfully incorporate sensitivity training into the workplace:

Step 1 – Create a Welcoming Environment

Whenever conducting sensitivity training, you must create an open and welcoming environment at your workplace that invites genuine conversation between coworkers. A welcoming environment will make employees feel safe, and it will also encourage them to discuss about their concerns, dissenting opinions, or challenges related to inclusivity.

The first step is extremely crucial to follow, because if you succeed in creating a healthy work environment in the beginning, then the entire process is most likely to go smoothly. Your main aim should be to create a workplace where employees don’t feel bound or restricted to express their thoughts. Instead, you should be focusing on making your employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on complex topics, because, through this, potential issues will be managed more effectively without them becoming more challenging or triggering.

Step 2 – Develop a Strategy and Establish Guidelines

Once you have created a welcoming environment, the next step is to develop a strategy. You need to develop a strategy for the implementation of the training program to ensure that there is clear communication about the reasons for the training and any accompanying new policy. The most common mistake most organizations make is to forcefully make the employee join the training session. Forcing the employee will not yield the results you are expecting, instead, it might create much bigger problems for the organization.

You should always provide your team members with clear expectations for their interactions with others. If you become clear about your expectations with them, employees will happily join you on your plan. However, even though sensitivity training encourages open communication, it is still important to establish clear expectations about communication styles and behaviors that are and are not appropriate. Creating guidelines is also important, because if you don’t, certain subjects of the conversation might offend other employees, which is the last thing you want.

Step 3 – Recognize Every Employee’s Worth

Appreciating other people could benefit you in numerous ways. Therefore, you must strive to help all employees recognize each other’s unique strengths and opinions. To foster a more inclusive and positive work environment, you need to encourage all employees of the organization to interact with one another. This kind of collaborative environment will help workers with diverse backgrounds become more productive and proactive.

Step 4 – Encourage Self-Reflection

You should also provide opportunities for self-reflection to your employees during sensitivity training. Since increasing the level of emotional intelligence is a core aim of sensitivity training, therefore, self-reflection opportunities help increase a professional’s self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Self-reflection is also important to understand the feelings of other people. When you put yourself in the same situation as others, you are most likely to understand what that person goes through. The same is the case with sensitivity training, if you want your employees to understand how people with diverse natures or other demographic groups feel, then you should put them in a relatively similar hypothetical scenario and let them experience the same kind of behavior.

Step 5 – Hire a Professional

Most of the time team leaders conduct sensitivity training themselves, because they believe that they know more about their employees than anyone else. However, it is not always advised to assign the team leaders to conduct these kinds of trainings, in fact, it is better to hire a professional.

A professional with a background in sensitivity, diversity, and inclusivity might have a greater understanding of how these three concepts relate to one another and what strategies can best foster them in the workplace. Moreover, the add-on benefit of hiring a professional is that they would not have any existing biases about your company or employees, which can help promote more open conversations on challenging topics.

Step 6 – Encourage Continuous Learning

Sensitivity training is not a one-time thing, in fact, it is an ongoing process. After the completion of the training, you should provide your employees with continual opportunities to learn more about diversity, sensitivity, and inclusivity.

If you believe that one session of sensitivity training can change the mindset of all your employees, then sadly that is not true. The actual benefit of sensitivity training reaps when multiple training sessions are held over a period of a few months.

We are living in an extremely tech-savvy world, where we have easy access to nearly everything. As you are already aware that with time, strategies change, and so do the methods, and therefore you could use several tools to support continual learning on these valuable topics.

Step 7 – Lead by Example

For most employees, their managers or supervisors are their role models. They follow their lead and try to reflect their behavior into them. To make sure that your employees understand the teachings of sensitivity training, you must ensure that their managers and supervisors are also following the same command.

As said earlier, employees may have an easier time practicing listening to and respecting the diverse opinions of others if they see their managers and supervisors doing the same. Business leaders might consider holding separate training for managers and supervisors so that these professionals can understand the best practices to serve as an example to their employees.

Top Three Elements for Effective Sensitivity Training

Every sensitivity training is conducted differently depending on the members and the organization’s requirements. Some types of training might focus more on diversity practices, while some focus on conflict resolution or conflict handling. Whatever the case, some elements need to be considered in all sorts of training.

1 – Don’t Let Your Prejudice Overpower You

It is important that when you are attending sensitivity training, you should make it clear that you are attending it to improve yourself. The purpose of sensitivity training is to change your old toxic beliefs and assumptions and convert them into something positive. However, if you attend sensitivity training with a fixed mindset of not changing your prejudice, then you can never benefit from this training.

You must ensure that every employee is interacting with other members without being judgmental about them. If there is even one bad fish, it could ruin the entire pond, which would eventually ruin your time and resources as well. An open mindset will help you develop new and even better partnerships than before.

2 – Create New Values

When you are open to communication and receptive to feedback, it helps you grow as a person and also polishes your skills. With the help of this training, every member can establish convictions or principles about the other members, which will broaden others’ perspectives and promote healthy relationships.

Sensitivity training also makes an employee learn about different cultures, ethnicities, religions, etc. This also helps them develop new values and new perceptions about people. Most of the time, new interactions also lead to much stronger work relationships, thus increasing overall productivity.

3 – Engagement

For sensitivity training to work out well, employees need to engage with one another. If employees do not interact with each other, the results will not be as effective as they should be. Interaction with each other helps identify the root cause of most issues, it also helps in clearing any misconceptions, and most importantly, it helps in understanding the values, beliefs, and perceptions of others.

If an employee joins a training session with the intention of not communicating with any of their colleagues who come from diverse backgrounds, then it is your responsibility to encourage the exchange of communication between them.

Key Takeaways

In today’s multicultural and multigenerational workplace, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training is increasingly important. Whether employees are working from home or in the workplace, the ability to show empathy for how others may be experiencing the world is an important step in creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture.

As HR and Diversity and Inclusion professionals know all too well, the idea of treating everyone with respect and fairness may sound simple, but often individuals fall back on stereotypes and unconscious bias when making workplace decisions, such as who to hire or promote or invite to join a group.

To mitigate these issues, sensitivity training is introduced, whose main aim is to promote interpersonal relationships that benefit the organization’s productivity by providing a safe and secure environment to all of its employees.

It equips your employees with tools to improve themselves and handle others’ behaviors. These trainings, if implemented appropriately, outweighs its limitations over benefits as it strengthens everyone’s well-being. Effective two-way interactions among all members, whether senior or junior level, ultimately promote physical and psychological well-being.