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Sensitivity Training: LGBT Issues

Sensitivity Training: LGBT Issues

As society as a whole becomes more tolerant of different lifestyles, the workplace is starting to become more tolerant, as well. Gay marriage is now allowed in several states. You may work with a man or woman who is openly and happily married to someone of the same gender. They may even have children.

As recent as just 20 years ago, a gay, lesbian, or transgender person would have stayed "in the closet" for fear of risking their professional career; that's not the way it is today. As likely as it is that you work with someone who's married to a person of the same gender, it's also likely that you work with a transgender – or people whose gender identity is not the same as their birth gender. Your organization may even allow for a transgender to use the bathrooms of the gender they identify with – and not their birth gender. Your organization's insurance plan may even cover treatment for gender identity disorder.

It's just as important for you to be respectful and sensitive with members of the LGBT community as it is with any other group in the workplace. This means confronting your own beliefs, feelings, and values about gays and lesbians, recognizing stereotypes, and learning to effectively work with, and communicate with, those whose lifestyle is not like yours – and may be one you don't agree with.

What is LGBT and What Does It Mean?

LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. A lesbian is a homosexual woman; whereas, a gay is a homosexual man. A bisexual person is sexually attracted to both men and women. Transgender describes someone whose gender identity is different from their birth gender. Transgender people may or may not identify themselves as gay.

Want to learn more? Take an online course in Sensitivity Training in the Workplace.

Fostering Respect in the Workplace, Not Judgment

It's important to be inclusive of everyone in your organization, even if you don't agree with their culture or lifestyle. This includes those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. These people are being themselves, just as you are. They want to have conversations about family and friends just like you do. They may have a spouse like you, and they also may have children with that spouse. You should never degrade their relationships or show disapproval or condemnation for who they are or their sexual orientation – no matter your personal or religious opinions.

It's possible that a transgender male may come to work every day dressed as a female. A transgender female may also come to work dressed as a male. It's important not to label these people with stereotypes. You also shouldn't stare and whisper. Treat people with respect, and treat them how they want to be treated. If a woman comes to work every day dressed as a male, she should be treated as a male in the workplace. You should use the pronoun "he" and call him by the name he asks to be called. The same holds true in reverse. This person isn't playing dress up. They aren't begging for attention, nor do they have a mental illness. They should never be treated or talked about as such.

Focus on getting to know the facts about the person, not holding to stereotypes of religious beliefs.

Being Inclusive of Everyone

When a concept or a culture is foreign to someone, they sometimes shy away from it altogether out of fear of offending someone. There's no need to be that way with anyone from the LGBT community. They may have a different sexual orientation, but that's where the differences stop for the most part. Just like heterosexuals, some are outgoing and some are shy. Some are married, some are single, and some are even divorced. Some have kids. Some don't. Some have great relationships with their families while some have been excluded and rejected.

The only thing you should never do is use slang or derogatory statements to describe anyone's sexuality or gender identity. This includes humor and jokes that are in poor taste and may insult, emotionally injure, or harass anyone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

You should always be inclusive of your LGBT co-workers. Include their families, partners, or guests to activities where heterosexual families are invited. Respect their relationships even when you don't agree. However, you should be aware of any biases and stereotypes and focus on respectful behavior at all times. This means you never want to say things like, "I don't understand your lifestyle," or "When did you decide you were gay?"

Effective Communication Strategies

It's not unusual, and there's nothing wrong with you, if you aren't sure what terminology someone prefers when you are referring to them or talking with them.It's always better to ask than to assume or avoid. Plus, you should always be sensitive about the words you use. Base them on the personal preference of the person you're speaking with. For example, some gay men identify as a queer instead of gay. Some bisexuals now identify pansexual instead. Don't be afraid to ask out of fear of offending someone. You'll only offend them if you use the wrong term because you refuse to ask.

You may encounter people in the workplace whose sexual orientation is questionable – or hear rumors that someone is gay or a lesbian. Don't listen to the rumors, and don't spread them by asking other people. If you want to know a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or more about their personal life, you should ask. Just remember that the person has a right to decline to tell you anything. Respect that, as well. There are probably things about your personal life you aren't willing to share. That goes two ways.

If you should ask someone about their orientation or identity and receive an answer, also find out if that person wants you to keep it to yourself. It's not your job to "out" someone by telling everyone someone's sexual orientation or gender ID. In fact, it will be viewed as disrespectful and inappropriate. The idea is to always show respectful behavior, and to make the workplace an inclusive environment for everyone.

Resolving Conflicts

Conflicts are going to arise in the workplace, no matter what you do or don't do.They're not always preventable because we're all individuals, and we're going to have different opinions, perceptions, and ideas. However, it's how we work to resolve conflicts that helps us to determine how successful we are at both communicating and working as part of a team.

What Causes Conflicts

Conflicts in the workplace can arise for many reasons. Sometimes it's a simple difference of opinion. Perhaps we have different ideas about how to a task or project should be completed. Miscommunication and misunderstandings can also cause conflict. Incorrect assumptions, different values, and different perceptions can also be the cause of conflict.These can come from lack of resources or different goals.

However, behavior can also cause conflicts in the workplace. This entire course has talked about respectful behavior and sensitivity. But as hard as you try, conflicts can still arise because of behavior. For example, miscommunication can happen due to language barriers. Someone who is more has a more aggressive communication style might constantly interrupt someone who's trying to make a point. It can seem like one person is dominating the discussion and not giving the others any input by blocking all other ideas but their own. Not listening to what someone else has to say can cause conflict, as well.

To avoid conflict, you want to always try to avoid behaviors that can cause it. If you can eliminate the source of a conflict, it's always best to do it. Needless to say, though, there will be a time when a conflict arises. It's important you know how to handle it respectfully and fairly.

Conflict Resolution Styles

There are four different types of conflict resolution styles. Just as communication styles dictate how people communicate, conflict resolution styles define how someone reacts to conflict.

The Tortoise (Avoidance) A person who has a tortoise style tries to avoid conflict at all costs. Even when a conflict arises, this person will believe it can't be resolved, so they will withdraw. This is a lose-lose approach. Key phrase for this type: "I'll think about it later."

The Shark (Competition) This person tries to overpower the other person or people involved in the conflict. This is the win-lose approach. Since their goals are more important than the relationship, a person with this conflict resolution style wants to achieve their goals. They don't care about being accepted, or the needs of others. Key phrase for this type: "It's my way or the highway."

The Koala Bear (Adaptation) This style believes that relationships are very important. In fact, they are more important than individual goals. The people who utilize this style want to be liked by everybody, so they are willing to let go of their goals to save the relationship. This is the lose-win approach. Key phrase for this type: "Whatever you want to do is okay with me."

The Owl (Cooperation) This style values personal goals, but also relationships. The owl seeks resolution to conflicts because of this. The resolution will be one where all parties achieve their goals.Owls believe conflict can improve relationships by easing tensions. This is a win-win approach. Key phrase for this type: "Two heads are better than one."

The key to successfully resolving conflicts is to first determine which style is your go-to approach. Keep in mind that no one style is better than the other, but some are better in certain situations. You should learn to identify what style someone else is using by their behavior and words – and also learn to create a strategy by choosing a style that will lead to the best resolution. This may mean not using your go-to style, but adapting to work with someone else's style and find a resolution.

Methods to Resolve Conflicts

The way you ultimately resolve a conflict in the workplace will be to find a resolution to the problem. However, there are certain behaviors you should display during a conflict that will help make finding a resolution easier and quicker. These behaviors will also help keep conflicts from worsening.

You should:

  • Always respect everyone involved in the conflict. Use respectful behavior at all times.
  • Encourage everyone to discuss their views on the situation.
  • Listen to everyone's side of the story, even if you strongly disagree. When you make someone feel like their side of the story doesn't matter, they can become unwilling to cooperate and reach a resolution.
  • Determine the issues that are causing the conflict. You do this by listening and hearing every side of the story.
  • Identify the styles of conflict for everyone involved. Perhaps Person A is avoiding the conflict altogether and doesn't want to talk about it. Person B might be the shark and willing to do whatever it takes to win. You might find yourself as the owl, wanting everyone to come out a winner.
  • Consider everyone's opinion.
  • Explore alternative resolutions and positive outcomes.
  • Look for the common ground for everyone involved. There is usually at least one idea everyone can agree on. That can be the foundation for resolving the issues causing the conflict.

Matching Style to Strategy

There are four aspects that can help determine which conflict resolution style is the most appropriate for the situation, and will probably prove to be the most effective. Let's talk about each of these four styles, then discuss which styles are best to use in which situations.

The four aspects are:

  1. Time. You may not have a lot of time to collaborate, or you may have a lot of time.
  1. Importance of the issue. This refers to how involved priorities, principles, or values are in the conflict.
  1. Importance of the relationship. This refers to how important it is to keep a mutually supportive relationship with the other parties.
  1. Relative power. This refers to how much power you have compared to the other parties involved.

Generally, if the issue is very important, you'll want to try to collaborate (the owl). However, if you don't have much time, and you have the power to enforce what you want, the shark may be more appropriate. If you use the shark style, however, you might have to work to repair the relationship after all is said and done. Always collaborate if you can.

If the issue at the center of the conflict isn't that important, you can use the koala style to resolve the conflict. This method keeps the relationship intact, and you can save your power and the other styles for more important issues when you need to win. You should only use the tortoise style when there is something to gain by avoiding the conflict for the time being. More times than not, though, conflicts worsen when you don't address them and try to find a resolution. Avoidance (the tortoise) can be used if you're busy with more important things and/or if the relationship is not important.

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