Posts tagged training
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!)


Purposefully Uneasy

Our Multicultural Training Team, uses a lot of interactive experiences to start honest, open dialogues. The interactive experiences are typically very simple, but certainly cannot be confused for being easy. In fact, our interactive experiences intentionally make people uneasy!   

Recently we led an interactive experience that involved participants revealing their first reaction to racially loaded identities (terrorist, poor, nerd, millionaire, supermodel, gang member, etc). As we spoke each identity out loud, participants had to write down the first racial or ethnic group that came to mind. All participants then posted their responses on the walls. For the most part, participants jump into this (and similar exercises) quite willingly, despite the uneasiness exercises like this cause. But occasionally, we have someone who just can't handle it. The last time we did this particular exercise, someone walked out. Afterwards, a woman who witnessed the walkout, suggested that next time "we should leave out anything that would create volatility in favor of doing things we can all agree on so that we focus more on creating community". 


Our response was a kind but firm, "no." I would like to offer three reasons why our team has chosen to use simple but uneasy experiences, and why we will continue to, even at the risk of losing participants.  

1. Building True Community.  Most people probably wouldn't associate the word "chaos" with the word "community", but I have found that groups who don't enter into chaos with one another are only operating on a superficial level of association, not the deeper level of community. Superficiality does not serve as a solid foundation for honest, open dialogue on race, and the only way to move beyond superficiality is to introduce a little controlled chaos- something that rubs us the wrong way, that digs into our psyche, that make us uncomfortable, that forces us to be ourselves. We must be willing to go to that deeper place where race lives if we are serious about creating reconciliation. Sing-alongs are not the same as reconciliation. And so, we use interactive experiences that will create some tension, some uneasiness and also some community. (Read M Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled or A Different Drum for more on building true community)

2. Creating a Shared Experience. The second reason our team is committed to using interactive experiences is because they lay a good foundation for beginning dialogue. One reason (of many) why its so hard to have conversations about race is because our experiences are so varied. Our racial identities were not formed in vacuums. They were informed by our families, socioeconomics, education, geography, generation and more. How do you bring all these variations into a room and attempt to have a meaningful dialogue? Our solution is to create a shared experience. This allows everyone to talk about the same experience, but to offer an individual perspective. A shared experience gives us all the same starting point, the same context, the same people involved... what differs are our reactions, our feelings, our thoughts. The shared experience creates a framework for the dialogue that helps people hear and understand one another. 

 3. Acknowledging What's Wrong. The basic premise of all of our trainings/classes is that race still matters. I am down for celebrating diversity, sharing one anthers food, learning about ethnic holidays, etc. Those are all good and beautiful actions. But to do that without acknowledging racial disparities, racial discrimination, racial stereotypes, racial bias, racial histories, and racial inequalities is to do a disservice to the very people I am attempting to celebrate. Our inter-activities give everyone permission to acknowledge and share the hard things about dealing with race in America. We don't pretend everything is golden, and we don't expect our participants to do so. Its healthy and honest to acknowledge what is still broken; how else can we galvanize to fix it? 



So far from trying to appease our participants and make it easy to stay in the room, we would much rather challenge everyone and ourselves by building community from (a little) chaos, creating shared experiences, and giving everyone space to acknowledge what's wrong. Thats how we move forward together, truly together.