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Author's note: A list of news items on training appears in the column to the right. Drawn from many sources, they provide current examples of issues spawned by training sessions.

The training examples in my article below are drawn mainly from the early and mid 90's. Although somewhat dated, they still reflect some of the key issues involved when someone attempts to teach as a subject matter.

Grady McAllister, Revised May 17, 2012


By Grady McAllister

Training encounters of the controversial kind

Presented November 21, 1996
The University of Houston
College of Technology

This paper was written by Grady McAllister. It was completed as a research project for a class in Occupational Technology at the University of Houston. The ideas expressed do not represent the views of the University of Houston or the College of Technology.

© 1996 by Grady McAllister. All Rights Reserved.


The year is 2042.

That is a year within the lifetime of many who are now living.

That is the widely accepted date when whites will become a minority in the United States.

Dale Maharidge, author of The Coming White Minority, writes that "whites who have always accepted the idea that the US is a white country are going to have to accept the fact that it will no longer be so and that once it changes it's never going to be so again."” Maharidge, who describes himself as a "pragmatic white liberal," hopes that the country will be "richer and more vital" as a result.

Nonetheless, he predicts that the first 50 or 100 years of a white minority America will be "absolutely wrenching--perhaps the most tumultuous period in our country's history."

Many whites will not readily accept the change. According to Maharidge, "This will not be something whites will grasp very easily. It's destined to feel like a loss of empire."

Many whites will start to feel like a minority long before the 2042 date. For one thing, the states of Texas, California, and Florida are absorbing 50 per cent of the nonwhite immigrants and their offspring. California, for example, will be mostly nonwhite by end of this decade. For the nation as a whole, the younger half of the population will be mostly nonwhite long before 2042.


The implications for the workplace are massive. As far back as 1987, the Hudson Institute predicted that white males would constitute only 15 per cent of new workers by the new millennium. The remaining slots are going to white women and to minorities.

Immigration has fueled the increasing role of minorities: Legal immigrants have been exceeding the records set at the start of the Twentieth Century. Most of them are non-whites who bring a variety of cultures with them.

To cope with the change, most large organizations are boosting programs in "cultural ." trainer S. Kanu Kogod, says these programs are necessary because the latest newcomers differ from earlier immigrants. Those who arrived in earlier immigrant waves sought to assimilate and enter the American mainstream; the newer immigrants "tend to hold onto their own languages and customs and try to maintain their distinct places within the overall American pattern."

In addition to immigrant groups, the term "" encompasses differences due to race, ethnicity, age, gender, education, cultural background, and physical ability. Often, lesbians and homosexuals enter the mix. These programs enjoy the imprimatur of the highest corporate officers.

Yet training has generated complaints. Like affirmative action, it is holy writ for human resource professionals, but controversial for the public. The report that follows looks at programs and some of the issues that have developed.


S. Kanu Kogod notes that a diverse workforce has lead to "conflicting messages about how to do things." According to Kogod, requires a form of value relativism. She promotes a move away from "ethnocentrism" and toward "cultural relativism, the attempt to understand another's beliefs and behaviors in terms of the person's culture." She continues: "The person who responds to interactions with cultural relativism rather than ethnocentrism is able to see alternatives and to negotiate with another person on the basis of cultural differences."

Less theoretically, Kogod offers these tips to managers:

  • Understand that cultural differences exist.
  • Acknowledge your own stereotypes and assumptions.
  • Develop consciousness and acceptance of your own cultural background and style.
  • Be flexible; try to adapt to the style of the person with whom you are communicating.
  • Provide employees who are different with what they need to succeed.
  • Treat people equitably but not uniformly.
  • Encourage constructive communication about differences.

Kogod believes that these guidelines will create a climate in which "any communication--whether between employees or between an employee and a customer--is a multicultural event."


In 1995, a group billing itself as the " Continuous Quality Improvement Team for a Strategic Conversation" issued a report to the Governing Board of the Maricopa Community College District in Arizona. Their definition was less than concise:

    , as it is understood in the workplace today, implies differences in people based on their identifications with various groups. But it is more. is a process of acknowledging differences through action. In organizations, this involves welcoming heterogeneity by developing a variety of initiatives at the management and organizational levels as well as at the interpersonal levels. Sometimes called the platinum rule, valuing involves treating others as they wish to be treated.

    The goal (of in the workplace) is to create a culture in which every employee -- regardless of gender, race, ethnic background, or sexual orientation -- has the opportunity to flourish, based on performance…

    Organizations can learn to harness aspects of uniqueness. Leaders can value differences as a source of strength and creativity for the organization. Results demonstrate that utilizing people's uniqueness enhances communication, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, thereby improving organizational productivity and performance.


Trainers frequently ask their participants to engage in a role-playing exercise. One widely used "structured experience" offers these training goals:

  • To encourage participants to consider the impact of cultural on interactions among people.

  • To foster the participants' awareness of and sensitivity to cultural attitudes and behavior that are different from our own.

  • To provide an opportunity for participants to practice communicating and problem-solving in a culturally diverse setting.
The exercise brings out reactions to an incident in an imaginary country called Zenoland. The country experiences an earthquake, and relief workers from North America are in Zenoland to assist.

Meanwhile, Zenoland is trying to help its economy by promoting tourism. Most of the effort centers on Isol, a Zenoland province on the Green Sea.

Unlike most of Zenoland, the people of Isol live by strict religious rules. Women's activities are segregated. Women who enter the Green Sea must be fully clothed and be accompanied by other women.

A crisis develops that involves Ms Bach, a Canadian relief worker. Bach appears at the Green Sea alone and goes for a swim in a revealing two-piece bathing suit. Her independent activities offend nearby fundamentalist fishermen.

Outraged, the men shout and throw rocks at her. She flees into the water. They follow her and strike her with their fists. Bach nearly drowns before being rescued by tourists.

The president of Zenoland convenes a meeting to address the ensuing crisis. The training participants assume the roles of minister of the interior, province chief of Isol, the vice president of a company that wants to build a resort in Isol, an international news correspondent, and the leader of the international aid team.


Another program looks at boss-subordinate communications problems and adds the element of . According to consultants Jack Mendelson and Diane Mendelson, “Difficult communications situations between a manager and an employee are frequently caused, in part, by demographic differences between two people.” The consultants prescribe their DIFCOM (Difficult Communications) process for situations when a manager “must communicate a message that he or she believes the other person will not like.”

They offer an example of the process in HR Magazine:

Jane, the sales manager is 28 years old and from a minority group. She is engaged and has no children. Curt, a sales representative who reports to Jane, is 48 years old, Caucasian and has been married for 26 years. He has two teenage daughters.

Jane wants Curt to do a better job handling customer requests. She prepares to communicate her desires.

Jane has had “extensive experience with Caucasian authority figures and managers who are much older and fairly extensive experience with male subordinates.” However, she has had very little experience with subordinates who are white, male, and older.

Jane mulls over Curt’s demographics. How, she wonders, might a person who is white, male, older, and subordinate react during the meeting? Writers Mendelson and Mendelson make us privy to her thoughts:

    Jane speculated briefly that Curt might have difficulties with her race, gender or young age--and perhaps, all three…

    Jane worked her way through her own biases about people like Curt. When she began her preliminary work and thought about him, two assumptions came to mind: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" and "Curt is over the hill."

    She caught herself stereotyping Curt and "talked to herself" for a few minutes about his age. "Even though he is old enough to be my father," she thought, "he also keeps himself in good physical shape, shows no signs of slowing down, and is nearly 20 years away from retirement."

    Jane decided she would focus on Curt's potential and his other good points as well as his immediate problems with customer requests. After all, his sales performance had been quite satisfactory over the years. He had trained several new sales people rather well.

    The two agree to meet in a Thai restaurant. Curt seems to look toward the meeting with fear and loathing. However, Jane sees Curt "brighten up" when she offers to take him in her new sports car.

From this point on, the process resembles traditional management training. Jane follows these DIFCOM steps:

1. Build rapport with the employee and participate in rituals.
2. Discuss and define the problem or opportunity.
3. Ask for behavior change.
4. Discuss individual benefits of that change.
5. Prepare an action plan jointly.

Jane and Curt mutually agree to resolve the customer complaints.

As they leave the restaurant, Curt says he has just one more question. Jane stops walking and gives him "her undivided attention," as we reach the conclusion of the scenario. Curt tells her what is on his mind:

    "Jane, could I drive your car back to the office?" As she laughed, she suddenly realized what was so familiar about "this old white guy." Curt's personality and sense of humor reminded her of her favorite uncle. "Interesting, she thought--Curt certainly doesn't look anything like Uncle Mike!" Jane flashed Curt a big smile and tossed him the keys.


Not all training goes under the banner of “.” Many trainers include appeals in programs aimed at other soft-skill areas. Examples include “team-building,” “change management,” and “sensitivity training.”

ESL (English as a second language) programs deal with one of the results of .


Writing in Training magazine, Faith Hayflich and Anne E. Lomperis state that immigration has brought American companies to the point where they must “address limitations in communications skills to retain valued employees, meet safety standards, and compete in the national and international marketplace.”

They report the experience of a South Florida hotel chain where guests complained “The telephone operators don't even speak English here.” The language barrier has resulted in guests receiving suntan lotion instead of the shampoo they expected.

ESL training is time-consuming and expensive, but Hayflich and Lomperis believe that it is “an investment that pays off. It reduces lost time, costly errors, customer complaints,” and other factors that damage competitiveness and reduce profits. The key is to: (1) Consider which of the organization's goals are not being met because of a language problem, (2) Analyze the tasks being done, (3) Consider the language skill each task involves.

According to Hayflich and Lomperis, the amount of ESL training should be geared to the importance of the tasks and the “importance” of the individual to the organization: “A manufacturing worker or service employee who has few literacy skills and little knowledge of spoken English could require several years to become fluent in the language----an endeavor few companies have the resources to undertake.” Yet, a Silicon Valley vice president might rate private tutoring to reduce “grammar and pronunciation errors to almost zero."


Change management training often travels the same path as training. After all, is one big example of change in organizations.

The logic of change management training revolves around three ideas:

(1) Change is taking place all the time.
(2) Change is taking place faster now than in the past.
(3) You had better get used to lots of change.

Some of the training also implies a cultural and political agenda.

For example, let’s meet cultural anthropologist Jennifer James. Dr. James is a self-styled change management expert and futurist. She is also a Seattle-based liberal newspaper columnist.

In her video, Survival Skills for the Future, she presents her ideas on how to cope with change. One of our problems, she says, is that “myths in the culture” perpetuate old perspectives. She offers some perspectives of her own on these well-known myths:

The Lone Ranger: "Not a team player . . .Imagine the Lone Ranger running your company." He's pretentious with his white horse and silver bullets. He doesn't communicate well-- especially about his background.

Beauty and the Beast: "The basic message is you can marry one of those guys and clean him up."

Snow White: "No assertiveness training. . . always relying on looking in the mirror." Moves in with seven dwarves who have "disturbing personal habits."

If all of this sounds politically correct, that is James' intention. She tells her video viewers:

    People are uncomfortable with politically correct behavior. They don't realize that it just means learning to speak in ways that enable us to work together.
James advises: "Be able to handle ," otherwise, "you'll be obsolete. You won't know what is going on."

Obviously her celebration of does not extend to nonconformist types like the Lone Ranger or the Seven Dwarves.

Dr. James seems to be talking down to her viewers. Rather than new knowledge or skills, her purpose is to effect an attitude adjustment.

Soft skill trainers often state--or imply--ideas that are not universally accepted. At other times, the training methods may jolt and intimidate people. Training can go too far in a crusade to erect togetherness. For example, there is the strange case of the New Age ghost and the FAA . . .

"Another sect, which mended matters with a jargon about "the Centre of Truth": holding that Man got out of the Centre of Truth — which did not need much demonstration — but had not got out of the Circumference, and was even to be shoved back into the Centre, by fasting and seeing of spirits. Accordingly, much discoursing with spirits went on — which did a great deal of good which never became manifest."

— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859


In 1994 and 1995, a pair of training scandals emerged at the Federal Aviation Agency that caused many people to take a hard look all training aimed at increasing "sensitivity."

It seems that since 1984 the FAA "stress management" training had been led by New Age cult member Gregory May. A Department of Transportation investigation includes a transcript of a purported conversation between May and the ghost of "Ramtha." According to J.S. Knight, the cult's priestess, Ramtha is a 35,000-year-old warrior who lived on the Lost Continent of Atlantis.

May's New Age proclivities make an interesting story, but were not his main foibles. There was also the matter of how FAA officials granted May $1.4 million in contracts without open bids. But it was May's training methods that generated an outcry from the media and Congress.

The sessions required a woman to share a bed with her male boss, two men to visit the toilet tied together, and three women to take a shower together. Participants were reportedly deprived of sleep and verbally assaulted. All this was supposed to make managers more sensitive to other employees.

May stated he has "trained" as many as 4,000 FAA officials. Asked for comment, FAA Deputy Administrator Linda Hall Daschle said (with unintended irony) "Don't haunt us with the past. We're trying to move forward."


In a separate FAA program, black employees were urged to discuss the problems of living in a "white, male dominated society" and verbally castigate individual white males. Also, the alleged WM dominators were obliged to run a gauntlet in which they were aggressively fondled by females.

But Louisa Eberhardt, the consultant who designed the program, explained: "What it was--is one minute of men experiencing what women in a male-dominated organization experience, often, daily."

Writing about the FAA imbroglio, Fortune columnist Daniel Seligman concludes: "Sensitivity training is coercive at its worst . . . but its benefits are hard to trace even when the training involves nothing more than cheer leading for workplace ." Seligman expresses the sentiments of many when he writes:

    A big problem with is that people really are diverse--so much so that they don’t necessarily want to be told to embrace the views and living arrangements of others who are different.

The training community, of course, sees things differently. An article in the Training & Development Journal last September describes how a new FAA program "increases awareness of personal stereotypes and prejudices" and "knowledge of sexual harassment in the workplace." The claim of success is based on nothing more than self-assessments at the end of the seminar.


Witch hunt tactics are not limited to the government bureaucracy. Carolyn Nilson, a consultant for AT&T, Chevron, and Nabisco, has created the following team building exercise:

Employees must sit in a circle and show an immediate "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" while the team leader fires off a quick series of statements. They cover such hot topics as affirmative action, marrying someone of a different race or religion, and AIDS in the workplace.

According to Nilson, the statements are designed to pull an immediate "gut" response. She ominously advises team leaders to "waste no time in seeking help from a consultant, corporate attorney, or other human resources facilitator if your team's responses indicate confusion or bias."


    If you have come to this page, it is likely you are interested in making the world a better place. Are you a social change activist, trainer, or teacher and interested in becoming a more effective fighter against racism, sexism, homophobia, ethnocentrism, religious bigotry, xenophobia, sizes, disablism, nationalism, internalized, institutionalized, [sic] and all other forms of prejudice? Then join me in a seminar where we can learn together.
    -- Ad on World Wide Web


There is no doubt about it: training has become one of the most controversial forms of training ever created.

Atlanta consultants Ann Perkins Delatte and Larry Baytos admit:

    Given the sensitive or even volatile nature of issues sometimes covered…(racism, sexism, homophobia) there is the potential for a program to "blow up." It isn't all that rare to have an irate participant stomp out of the room after taking offense at the meeting dialogue. The news of such an episode spreads quickly to future attendees

In 1992, trainers Michael Mobley and Tamara Payne wrote about a "backlash" that was developing against programs. According to them, the training itself can cause a backlash when any of the following occurs:Trainers have political agendas or support particular interest groups.

  • Training is presented as remedial and trainees as people with problems.
  • Training uses a limited definition of whose differences should be valued.
  • Training is based on a philosophy of political correctness.
  • Training forces people to reveal their feelings about their coworkers or to do exercises that don't respect people's dignity or differences.
  • Training pressures only one group to change.
  • The discussion of certain issues such as reverse discrimination is not allowed.
  • Trainers don't model the philosophy or skills associated with valuing .

Writing recently in Training magazine, Steven Paskoff concludes that many programs are "a waste of valuable time" that "actually exacerbate the very problems they are meant to address." He cites several "fatal weaknesses" found in the typical program:

  • Asking too much of managers: A manager learns, for example, that different cultures have different "rules" about physical touching. If he takes the training seriously he may "expose his company to a sexual harassment charge."
  • Lack of tangible standards. Paskoff asks, "Is the manager expected to make possibly illegal inquires about employees' ethnic and cultural backgrounds before deciding on the proper mix of bluntness and circumspection?"
  • The wrong tool. The typical program concentrates on "feelings" rather than preventing illegal behavior. Paskoff describes one company where so many honest "feelings" were expressed that the meeting left participants "alienated, angry, and guilt-plagued." Hardly anyone attended later sessions. Two trainers quit the company, and one of them "subsequently filed her own sexual harassment complaint."
  • Failure to promote conflict resolution: "The premise is that by exploring differences one learns to 'understand' the party who is 'different.' " However, the reality is that this merely conditions people to "dwell on differences."
  • Failure to recognize that individuals are different. programs tend to acknowledge individual differences but end up "urging that a single characteristic…play a determining role" in how a person is treated.
  • Encouraging of stereotyping: "Overtly or covertly, by focusing on group differences, many training programs communicate that certain cultural, racial, or sexual stereotypes--the ones taught in programs--have validity." For example, a male manager may "learn" in a program that women use "a more tactful style of communication" than men. From that piece of information he may conclude that women are not "tough enough" for business.
  • Increased legal risk. Remarks made during one workshop served as evidence in a $100 million sex-discrimination lawsuit against Lucky Stores in California. In another case a jury awarded $1 million to each of two people as a result of "racially charged" statements that arose during US West training sessions. According to Paskoff, these are some of the possible outcomes "when training's vaunted 'exchange of painfully honest feelings in a safe environment' gets out of hand."
  • The training can also encourage an appearance of unequal treatment. For example, a manager may "learn" that Asians consider direct criticism bad manners. He then treats Asians with more patience than some other group. The other group cries "discrimination!"

Paskoff recommends a more direct approach to , one that focuses on results, rather than attitudes, beliefs, or feelings:

1. Communicate a commitment to fair treatment.
2. Focus on what people have in common.
3. Identify unacceptable conduct and prohibit it.
4. Teach civil rules of behavior.
5. Use one course, not many
6. Define the issue as one of business risk management.

For companies that fail to manage , the risk can be very high indeed. As this paper neared completion, Texaco had just settled a two-year-old discrimination suit. The agreement will pay an average of $82,000 apiece to current and former African-American workers.

The sudden settlement was precipitated by a recording of Texaco executives that seemed to reveal a bias against blacks.

One part of the dialog that added to the uproar was the term "black jelly beans." Ironically, that metaphor was coined by trainer Roosevelt Thomas--himself an African-American. So, Texaco did have some training; it will soon have some more.

As part of its coverage of the Texaco case, ABC-TV took World News Tonight viewers inside some sessions. One actuality showed a black female ranting and raving about living in a society dominated by white males. Another clip showed a black male, on the verge of tears, who confesses…

I've been a bigot toward gays and lesbians. I thought that Asians were dirty. I have so many prejudices within me too, and--for those I have offended--I am sorry.

In a sidebar to its Texaco coverage, Newsweek notes that "blame and shame" sessions abound in much training: "They operate on the no-pain no-gain theory that multicultural harmony will emerge only after a period of discomfort." The article quotes Harris Sussman, a Cambridge consultant: "In the name of these seminars have turned people against each other."

The Newsweek article comments:

Dubious training techniques and unskilled "consultants" have proliferated; anyone can, and does, hang out a -training shingle.

The article endorses Steven Paskoff's straightforward approach to and concludes with this observation: " is a fact of life whether corporations like it or not. Managing it, however, seems to require more than just a few dubious metaphors."

Note: A list of current news items on and training appears in the column to the right. You can mark this page in your browser to keep abreast of current training news.

The Vasthead is the professional web site of
Grady McAllister of Houston, Texas.



Bartlett, Donald L. & Steel, James B.(1996). America: Who Stole the Dream? Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel. 101. Based on series of articles in Philadelphia Inquirer .

Cano, Martin. (1996, October 28). Unlearning prejudice & celebrating : Not for profit seminars. At the time of this writing article was available at www.hooked.net.

Delatte, Ann Perkins & Baytos , Larry . (1993, January). Guidelines for successful training. Training . 55-60.

Continuous Quality Improvement Team for a Strategic Conversation. (1995). defined. Available www.emc.maricopa.edu//defined.html. Maricopa Community College District, Arizona.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. (1945). The Crack Up. New York: New Directions. 128.

Greene, Bob. ( 1996, October 28). New minority group is on the country’s horizon. Chicago Tribune.

Hayflich, Faith & Lomperis, Anne E. (1992, August). Why don’t they speak English? Training. 75-78.

Hosenball, Mark. (1995, March 6). The guru and the FAA. Newsweek. 32.

James, Jennifer. (1992). Survival Skills for the Future [video]. Cambridge, MA: Enterprise Media.

Kogod, S. Kanu. (1992). Managing in the workforce. The 1992 Annual: Developing Human Resources. 241-248.

Lobasz-Mavromatis, Josephine. (1992). Zenoland: Managing the culture clash. The 1992 Annual: Developing Human Resources. 69-78.

Mendleson, Jack L. & Mendleson, C. Diane. (1996, October). An action plan to improve difficult communication. HR Magazine. 118-126.

Mobley, Michael & Payne, Tamara. (1992, December). Backlash: The challenge to training. Training & Development Journal. 45-52.

Nilson, Carolyn. (1993). Team Games for Trainers. New York: McGraw-Hill. 179-180.

Paskoff, Steven M. (1996, August). Ending the workplace wars. Training . 42-47.

Reibstein, Larry. (1996, November 25). Managing . Newsweek . 50.

Seligman, Daniel. (1994, October 17). Thinking about the gauntlet. Fortune . 213.

Tan, David L., Morris, Lee & Romero, Jim. (1996, September). Opposite sector: Changes in attitude after training. Training & Development Journal.

World News Tonight [broadcast actualities]. (1996, November 17).

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