What is Sensitivity Training ?

Sensitivity training is a form of orientation that makes people more conscious and aware of their prejudices and biases, such as, those based on race, religion etc.

One of the distinct features of the modern workplace is its diversity and multicultural atmosphere. The modern work environment contains people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, religions, etc. In such an environment, lack of sensitivity and concern for the feelings and sentiments of a people can seriously damage the work ethos and generate ill-feeling. Besides, perpetrators of such acts become a source of embarrassment and liability for the organization.

There are instances when a senior person in the organization gets embroiled in situation involving diversity by way of an out-of-place remark or gesture. It would be a serious issue for the management. In such situations, a one-on-one training situation would be ideal.

A typical sensitivity training program involves examining the many kinds of diversity, such as ethnicity, race, language etc. It analyzes in detail the different kinds of behaviour which may be considered as harassment. The program is built with the learner at the centre. The trainer tries to learn about the ideas, apprehensions, and notions of all the participants. He encourages them to discuss them and confronts them on their beliefs.

The origin of sensitivity training lies in research on human behavior that was conducted during World War II. These studies were concerned over whether the fundamental belief systems of enemy soldiers could be altered by the use of specific psychological techniques. The techniques thus developed were gradually introduced into the industrial sector and steadily perfected over the years. These techniques are now applied to encourage people to buy specific products and in the field of radio and television programming

The aim of sensitivity training is not to make people conform to a set of “acceptable” norms and ideas. It is designed to help people confront their own biases and prejudices and broaden their tolerance. The training involves varied methods such as role-playing, video case studies, simulated events etc.

Sensitivity training, though, is not without its critics who compare it to brainwashing techniques and indoctrination and argue that it is unethical.

Over the years, sensitivity training has been used by psychologists working for the Federal Government to enforce changes in the curriculum of the K-12 education. This is achieved by convincing the people in charge of the system such as school teachers, administrators, etc. Besides, sensitivity training has been used in the corporate world in America to implement the goals and guidelines of Equal Opportunity stipulated by overseers of the Federal government.