USDA Sensitivity Training




Cultural Sensitivity Training at the USDA has stirred considerable controversy and debate.  In two earlier posts I addressed (1) the importance of organizations such as the USDA in requiring sensitivity training programs of their staff, and (2) the justified cost of such programs as an important investment with a strong ROI.  Today I will address what I consider to the be appropriate content of such trainings.


My exposure to the content of the program offered at the USDA is limited to I saw on the videos and my comments here are not intended to defend or criticize that trainer or program.  I simply offer here four elements of what I consider an effective and appropriate Sensitivity Training Program:


1.  Agenda Neutral.  We call our program “Sensitivity Training” and we prefer this description to “culture awareness” or the more widely used “diversity training”.   The core  principle of our programs is that being aware and sensitive to the varied backgrounds and experiences of your fellow co-workers, reports, and supervisors is an essential business skill.

Navigating interpersonal differences in the workplace is a job skill that our sensitivity training programs help you and your people develop and leverage for the benefit of the organization.

At the end of our programs, participants often say: “that is not what I expected.”  We do not focus on any particular protected category or background characteristic, rather we focus on sharpening the individual’s skills for reading how their speech and actions are receive by others.  We help people to be what we refer to as their “Best Professional Self”: aware, in tune, and in charge of their speech and behaviors, and making others feel respected and valued.

2.  Behaviors not Beliefs.  Our program is concerned with behaviors, not beliefs.  We do not attempt to impose a belief structure or agenda through our trainings other than acknowledging that your workplace and the economy with which it engages consists of people of varied backgrounds and experiences, and to thrive professionally in this environment requires honing particular skills and behaviors.  These skills can be learned and that is what we teach.   Believe what you like – but ACT according to the law, company policy and an understanding that it is in YOUR best interest to be aware and in tune with your clients and colleagues.

As an example, I was put to the test on this core element of our curriculum when I arrived at a One-on-One Executive Sensitivity Training session and met a client who introduced himself as an active and proud member of an organization with a well known self professed commitment to promoting discrimination.  Despite my personal opinions, the message of the training remained the same: believe what you want, but ACT according to law and the company’s anti-discrimination policies.

This is an extreme example, but it makes clear the point that DB Pargman Consulting LLC’s Sensitivity Training Programs focus on skill-building, not changing beliefs.

Participants leave our classroom with tangible and practical tools to add to their workplace tool box regarding listening, communicating, and conflict avoidance and management.   Attendee evaluations consistently mention this as what they are most grateful for: a non-ideological, skills-based program which helps them function better with their colleagues, clients, and customers.

3.  Conflict Management Tools.

There is a science to communicating around complicated or controversial topics.  This science is well developed and yields practical and easily learned tools for how to hold “difficult conversations.”  Our Programs offer attendees these skills and help them to be more comfortable addressing problems while they are still small, in the hopes they won’t get larger.  We teach how to prepare for a difficult conversation,  how to receive constructive comments, and how to negotiate when the most important goal is preservation or the enhancement of the working relationship.

4.  The Law and Policies.  Our Sensitivity Training Programs serve a legal compliance function.  In addition to contributing to an affirmative defense from future litigation by the mere fact that the training occurred (as discussed in Part 1 of this series),  a significant part of the curriculum involves explaining the law of the land and how and why these laws came into being.  This historical context helps participants understand the current rules of the game – regardless of their or our opinions about it.

Federal employment laws, local and state laws when relevant, and the organization’s policies and procedures are explained so expectations of proper workplace behaviors are set forth, and any issues, concerns or questions  can be addressed.  Often, simply providing an opportunity for discussion and clarification can be a major key to avoiding workplace harassment problems.

There are other differences between our programs and what one can see in the USDA videos relating to communication style of the trainer; however, the four elements above are the differences which speak to curriculum and content.  In short, our programs focus not on indoctrinating an agenda or opinion, but rather explaining  the relevant laws and policies and equipping attendees with skills to improve their workplace experience and productivity.

<== USDA Part 1 – Required Attendance

<== USDA Part 2 – Cost and ROI


DB Pargman Consulting LLC is the leading specialized provider of One-to-One Executive Sensitivity Training and Group Diversity & Sensitivity Training. When an organization and it’s Key People face conflicts, accusations, or potential litigation relating to diversity or sensitivity issues, DB Pargman provides prompt and remedial responses that meet expectations of legal compliance, and perhaps more importantly, restore and enhance the performance of Key People. The firm provides trainings through live one-to-one individual executive sessions, live class-room group sessions, live online virtual sessions, and follow-up ongoing executive coaching. Based out of Atlanta, Georgia, DB Pargman has served a national client base of businesses, educational institutions, and governmental agencies for over 13 years.  DB Pargman Consulting LLC is Federal GSA Schedule Contract Holder.



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