Making Spooky Training Stick:  Delivering Training on Sensitive Topics

Happy Halloween!  As workplace learning and performance professionals, we sometimes have to provide education on scary, sensitive topics such as diversity, cultural and gender biases, substance abuse, compliance, office romance, inappropriate dress, personal hygiene, and workplace bullying.  Any topic of a sensitive nature may make even the best of facilitators uncomfortable when exploring the topic with participants. This is because our natural reaction is to shy away from difficult, controversial topics.  Participants deserve to be taught about these topics in authentic, engaging and purposeful ways to perceive the training as useful. Sensitive topics are important to workplace awareness of the world

…but how can facilitators effectively deliver the training and make sure it sticks?

Before engaging in training on any workplace sensitive topic, it is important for each participate to be in a positive emotional state. As an icebreaker to teaching sensitive topics, perform a mind sweep to clear the minds of participants.  First, introduce the training in a normal manner, then have participants pause and think about everything on their minds.  Pass out index cards to each participant to write everything they are currently thinking about, calls to return, emails to respond to, projects they are working on, family to do list, etc. Once complete, have participants put away their index cards and address those items after training completion.  The mindsweep technique can be used to clear participants of outside thoughts that hinder learning transfer and creates a fresh learning experience.

The Make Training Stick® team has a few practical techniques for tackling training on sensitive topics and making the (sensitive topic) training stick. Facilitators should

  1. Be a confident in educating on the sensitive topic.

  2. Set the stage by creating a supportive learning atmosphere by listening and respecting the views of each participant.

  3. Consider his/her own biases surrounding a sensitive topic, model open-mindedness, and inspire self-reflection.

  4. Recognize the diversity of each participant and recognize each participant has a unique background and set of experiences.

  5. Establish a learning framework with clear, specific objectives to focus. 

  6. Plan and active role and avoid dominating and being a passive facilitator in the learning process.

  7. Remain calm and turn emotional moments into learning experiences.

  8. Conclude with a summary of significant points.

  9. Allow participants time to reflect on comments made during the learning session, record their reflections in writing, and grant the opportunity to unwind and think calmly about individual views on the topic.

Mindfulness can be the answer to training on sensitive topics.  Facilitators simply encourage mindfulness by “watching what we do and say” (attention) and realizing (thinking) what it means to others (emotion). Facilitators gently remind participants to remain in a mindful state—bringing words and deeds in sync with good intentions. Things to be mindful of are stereotypes, an “us” versus “them” mindset, lacking compassion, seeking power over others, and objectification.

Conducting training on sensitive workplace topics does not have to be spooky. We are all products of our society and culture, and attitudes and values change. Facilitators must understand themselves and respect the unique background and experiences of participants.  More information on additional practical techniques to integrate into training for effective learning and transfer are in Barbara Carnes’ book, Making Learning Stick (on Amazon).

Until next time…


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