Developing a Learning Culture

50 Shades of Gray Area: Why Traditional Training Doesn’t Work for Sensitive Topics

In the world of workplace training, there’s nothing more maligned than the dreaded sexual harassment session. Traditionally, it’s completed with a made-in-the-80s movie, outdated cultural references, and a lot of awkwardness.

But it is possible to broach sensitive topics without embarrassment—or turning the training session into one big “That’s what she said” joke. Clarity is the name of the game, and for topics like sexual harassment, there’s no such thing as making expectations too clear. By getting rid of heritage programs that are both ineffective and awkward, you make way for simulations and scenarios that help employees feel both comfortable and confident in their understanding of the rules.

Typical Training Falls Short

One of the main reasons that typical sexual harassment training is ineffective is that it typically relies on a couple of B-list actors to expound what isn’t OK at work. But a 30-minute video can only convey so much and can’t possibly teach all of the nuances, body language, and situations a new employee may encounter at work. Learners either treat the material as throwaway information or worse, are even more confused than when they started.

Sexual harassment training (and other sensitive workplace topics) needs to be perfectly clear and without gray areas muddying the water of what is and isn’t acceptable. But, since a couple of scenes in a how-not-to video can’t demonstrate every scenario employees might face, it’s better to give the right information and let learners test their knowledge before heading into the cubicle jungle.

Simulations and Scenarios

Instead of showing employees what not to do, teach them instead to decode situations, body language, and communication and act accordingly. It’s less of a “don’t do this” approach and more of a “here’s how to navigate” approach to sexual harassment training.

Imagine if, instead of watching other people participate in scenarios, learners were given the opportunity to test their own knowledge in a simulation. Without the real-life pressure of being in an actual questionable situation, learners get to practice their newfound skills in a safe environment, while receiving instant feedback from an instructor.

It doesn’t make light of a serious topic; rather, it gives the topic the respect it deserves by ensuring learners understand just how seriously you’re taking its delivery. Scenarios and simulations put learners in applicable situations to remove any questions or gray area that might cloud their judgement. Instead of tip-toeing around serious and sensitive topics, skip the traditional training and choose something more straightforward. Clarity always wins out in a battle against a few awkward pauses.