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Diary of a (non-traditional) diversity trainer

LongIsland.com

Last month, I facilitated several workshops for an organization that had contracted me to deliver training so that their management staff might, through participation, enhance their cross-cultural communication skills and understanding of cultural di

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Last month, I facilitated several workshops for an organization that had contracted me to deliver training so that their management staff might, through participation, enhance their cross-cultural communication skills and understanding of cultural diversity.

This is what I do and I love what I do, so I showed up to the first session ready to roll, ready for fun, and...ready for challenge--and the latter, was in no short supply.

Before the first session was underway I was urgently informed that managers had expressed concern and anxiety over the topic. Hushed whispers in restrooms and hallways expressed wonder over what exactly might have taken place in the organization to promote such training. As if this was punishment.

Anticipating more traditional forms of "diversity" training--a.k.a compliance, sexual harassment, legal implications of intolerance--training with all those feared trimmings (e.g. militant trainers with an obvious chip (no, boulder more like) on a stiff shoulder, lecture, lecture, blame, finger-pointing, pressure and embarassment) it seemed "staff were most likely to resist participation." And so, there it was. I had been duly warned.

There was no comfort to be found in the assumption that first-session enrollees were probably more likely to be interested in the subject--no, that assumption was proven wrong immediately upon hearing the words "random involuntary enrollment."

And so, because it's what I do and it's what I love, I launched right into my session, smile-on-face, full steam ahead, rapport-building skills intact, engaging hat--on, and a let's-partner-in-this-thing appraoch set to go.

My strategy?

Allow more time than usual up front--just so that we could air out concerns and collaborate in a real discussion about the purpose, goals and benefits of such training right up front. I let them know in no uncertain terms, exactly what

this

training was all about. And, I sincerely encouraged all the challenge and venting up front--just so we could clear the way and really begin to make some headway.

The result?

Sorry, there were no tomatoes to report. No blank stares either. What I experienced in those next seven hours was probably

the

most engaged, participatory, honest, committed-to-learning group of trainees I had ever had the pleasure to work with. Every individual took some new piece of information away that day, and just as important, quickly marched right back to the rest of the group--those waiting their turn in the would-be torture chamber of the diversity classroom--and relayed a very important message. The message was--Hey! This

is

really timely, important stuff and you know what? You CAN actually have fun while learning and discussing this subject.

And the greatest part? This is no fairy tale ending. The following sessions went very well, program expansion to all employees is being considered, and even the toughest of the tough approached me after the program was over to tell me "Susan, you're the greatest of the greatest." Another who would have bet his $1,000,000 winning lotto card on the knowledge that he was certainly

not

going to learn anything new in this program (and why was I wasting his time?) was the single source of one of my greatest endorsements back in the real world that is the workplace.

So, why do I love what I do?

Because it means something. Because I want to see change in this tense world where trivial differences carry more weight than truly meaningful ones. Because I've seen that it is possible to leverage our differences for greater outcomes. Because I don't carry a chip on my shoulder. Because I love to see others learn something. Because I do and it shows.

And this has brought me repeat business, glowing reviews, happy customers, and established the beginnings of some really great relationships.