4 Rules to Develop a Great (Diversity) Training

Occasionally, before leading a training about race, I welcome everyone by declaring, "This is not your father's diversity training." Most people are not sure what I mean by that so early in the training. I have received many comments after trainings that go something like this, "That was a really great experience; it didn't feel like a training at all." For some that is a compliment. For others there is a hint of disappointment.  

So, fellow reconcilers, here are my personal rules for developing a great diversity training: 

1. Teach how, not what. Often diversity trainings focus on being politically correct. Trainers want participants to know what to say and what not to say. The method is to give participants the right language to avoid starting inflaming arguments or offensive conversations. Rather than telling participants what to say, we teach them how. How to dialogue, how to listen, how to value story, how to handle disagreement, how to be vulnerable. When we teach how, we believe the "what" will follow as participants engage in effective race conversations long after our training is done. 

2. Guide to the next step, not the "aha moment". It can very tempting to solicit "aha moments" in a training. Once you have experienced a great awakening, it is natural to want others to experience the same. But you have to remember that just as your learning was slow, incremental, the result of a journey- this training is one step on someone else's journey, too. Rather than trying to force an "aha moment" by giving too much information, jumping ahead in the learning process, or trying to impress with the newest thing you've learned, guide people to the next step of their learning process. One day the aha moment will come because of the building blocks you created. 

3.  Illustrate through movement, not lecture.  I'm over exaggerating a little bit here. It is quite normal and necessary to include a lecture, powerpoint, dialogue, etc in a training. After all people do come to learn. But as often as we can, we make people get out of their seats. They stand to do activities, walk around the room, move their chairs- anything that gets them moving, which often leads to simple but genuine interaction as well. We are mindful of planning activities that introverts would be comfortable doing (not just extroverts). We have found that getting participants on their feet fosters the learning process and renews the energy in the room. (example: The Privilege Walk)

4. Reward vulnerability, not right answers. When leading a training, it is quite natural to reward people with whom you most agree- a shared insight, the mention of a liked author or movie, a correctly defined word or concept, etc. In an effort to move the room into shared knowledge, we revert to the models of our teachers and reward "right" answers. Our training team tries instead to reward vulnerability. Its great when someone shares the same viewpoint as we do, but we try to acknowledge that after the training is over. During the training we try instead to reward honest, vulnerable sharing: like when a black man admits that he struggles with racism because it makes him so angry and anger doesn't seem very Christian-like, or when a white woman shares that she tries hard to prove to black people that she isn't racist, and knows she therefore looks crazy, not welcoming. When people reach deep down to share something real, honest, and vulnerable, we do our best to praise those moments, to thank immediately, to acknowledge anyone else who shares the same experience. It is amazing what happens in a room when vulnerability is treasured over "right" answers. 

Clearly, I love these rules; after all, I follow them. But if you choose to employ them, know that some participants will be disappointed. Some people really want a list of right and wrong answers- What do black people want to be called? Why is it bad to call people illegal? What's the deal with referring to Asians as oriental?- and so on. People who come to trainings have real questions that they want answered, and some can be disappointed to discover there won't be 3-steps-for-not-sounding-racist in the training. To acknowledge this reality, we are considering adding a Q&A time to our trainings, but all in all- we would still rather teach "how" by giving participants the tools to find answers to their own questions (without deeply angering someone in the process!)