Does Your Workplace REALLY Need Sensitivity Training?

By | 2017-01-13T13:41:54+00:00 December 16th, 2014|Categories: Our Favorite Posts, Respectful Workplace|Tags: , |5 Comments

Editor’s note: This article was originally published June 16, 2010.

Here at Legacy Business Cultures we often receive inquiries from managers requesting sensitivity training for their employees. Typically, there has been an ‘incident’ – someone has called someone else a derogatory name or otherwise been disrespectful toward other employees. In some cases, this leads to an EEOC investigation and required intervention.

At this point, a manager, HR Director, or C-level staff member seeks out a solution – possibly some form of ‘sensitivity training’ to remedy the situation.

But is sensitivity training really what your organization needs?

I did some quick research on the term sensitivity training and was surprised by the results. According to Wikipedia, sensitivity training is attributed to Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist from the early 20th century. Lewin’s change experiments for the Connecticut State Interracial Commission in 1946 are believed to be the founding for what we now know as sensitivity training.

Today, when most people hear the words sensitivity training they imagine sitting around in a group and exposing their biases to colleagues while they learn how to be more aware of other people’s feelings.

Is there a better approach than traditional sensitivity training?

Since the original notion of sensitivity training, the concept has gone through several incarnations, first shifting to multicultural training, then to diversity training and, most recently, inclusivity training. We are now in the era of respectful workplace training.

Respectful Workplace training is different than its predecessors in that it doesn’t assume that you are broken and need to be fixed – or that you need to be ridded of all of your prejudices. It allows you to be you, but with a different lens to look through.

Most people know how it feels to be respected and know how to show respect. They also understand the opposite. Respect has nothing specifically to do with how you look or where you were born. It is more about understanding what it means to be a human being at work (and in society). For business, the impact is clear: most employees are likely to consistently give their best effort when their work experience includes the feeling of respect.

Think about the possibilities of that in the workplace.

As more employees (including leaders) become committed to creating the experience of respect for one another, then we won’t have to worry about someone calling someone else a derogatory name, because they won’t – as often. We won’t have to worry about employees acting with hostility towards each other, because they won’t – at least not as frequently.

The path towards a respectful workplace isn’t easy. It’s a journey. It’s not a one time class or training session. Considering the average cost to replace an employee is well over several thousand dollars, the business benefits of a respectful workplace are significant.

So, does your organization need sensitivity training or respectful workplace training?

You tell us!

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About the Author:

Melanie Sklarz

Melanie Sklarz was the the web content and social media coordinator as well as the lead blog writer for the website. She has a MA in Women’s Studies from the Ohio State University. For more information, visit


  1. Debbie Scruggs June 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Years ago when I began doing Sexual Harassment Awareness training it just became so apparent to me that it is “showing respect” for one another that is what it was all about. Respect my wishes; for example, to “stop” when I ask you to stop. Show respect for each other as individual human beings and most of the bad things will go away. It will make life/work more pleasant and we are all more productive and happy in that kind of environment.

  2. The HR Carnival – Summertime Edition June 24, 2010 at 12:47 am

    […] Melanie Sklarz celebrates questions your respect for the ocean’s diverse species with, Does your workplace really need sensitivity training? […]

  3. Beth Weisberg June 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Right on, Melanie! That same line of thinking led me to call a recent workshop “Prospering in a Respectful Workplace” — and it was far better received than those tired “sensitivity trainings” of old. My take is that hardly anyone *intends* to be disrespectful of co-workers — yet all too often things people say or do end in others feeling less than respected, intentional or not. It really seems to help to get people engaged in thinking about — & talking to each other about — what can feel disrespectful to others, and raise awareness that one person’s “acceptable” is another’s “disrespectful”. And more importantly, to think about “best practices” that take into account everyone’s feelings & preferences.

    • Lisa Henry April 17, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      Beth- where did you find this workshop?

  4. […] your people to be more respectful, hopefully it is one that has moved past basic awareness and sensitivity training and onto a contemporary multifaceted […]

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