My Sensitivity Training

Teacher2The art of getting along depends on being sensitive to what people are saying even when their words say something else.

“How is your project going?” my manager asked.

Both of us knew that I was required to submit project reports on a weekly basis, therefore her actual question presented one of two possibilities.

Either she was confessing that she did not read my reports, or she was simply breaking ice before launching into something unpleasant.

“We will meet our deadline,” I assured her.

“Are you ahead of schedule?”

“Despite having to produce progress reports and manage a worthless team member whose only talent is to take everyone else off task, we are still on track.”

“So you are not ahead of schedule?”

“Why do you ask?”

She gave me the look that says, here comes the unpleasantness.

“I have signed both you and Doug up for mandatory training.”

“What kind?”

“Sensitivity training.”


“Because you accused him of being a worthless load.”

“Are you suggesting that Doug is not a worthless load?”

“You can’t say things like that.”

“It is bad enough that he refuses to work – but he spends his days ‘visiting’ and I get a lot of complaints. So I called him on it.”

“You called him a load.”

“I did. Are you saying it is okay to be a load but not okay to be called out on it?”

“Not around here.”

My conversation with Doug had forced her hand. He complained to HR and they were making demands. So I put on my big-boy pants and went to sensitivity training.

I imagined it would be bad, but I could never have imagined how bad it would be.


“If you were a tree,” the sensitivity consultant asked me, “what kind of tree would you be?”

“Do they still ask questions like that?”

“Yes, it has a purpose. What kind of tree would you be?”

“A thorn tree.”

“Why would you want to be a thorn tree?”

“Because they’re cool.”

“Pick another tree.”


“Because you can’t be a thorn tree.”

“Why not?”

“It is not on our list of acceptable trees.”

“Okay, what trees are on your list?”

“Are you trying to be difficult?”

“I rarely have to try.”


At that point, the consultant gave up on me and turned to Doug.

“If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

Doug shrugged.

“You must have a favorite tree?”

“I dunno,” he said.

That floored me. Those two words from Doug were the most productive thing I ever saw him do.

Further questioning only elicited two shrugs, a grunt and not so much as another “I dunno.”


At the end of the session, the HR consultant handed each of us a packet to fill out and instructed us to return it the next day.

I handed mine in the following morning and forgot about it.

A few days later, my manager inquired again, “How’s your project going?”

“We are ahead,” I told her.

“I figured as much,” she said, “after I transferred Doug out, your team is back on task.”

“How exactly did you manage to do that?”

“He failed to turn in his sensitivity training packet. It was his third strike and all we needed to send him packing.”

“I was wrong about something,” I told her.

“About what?”

“Sensitivity training.”

“Have you become a more sensitive person?”

“Not in the least,” I told her, “but seeing how effective it was at getting rid of Doug, I am recommending it to all the other team leaders.”

Author: Almost Iowa

56 thoughts on “My Sensitivity Training”

  1. I just realized I’ve never had to deal with an HR department. I left the corporate world long before such things were invented, and I’m glad for it. Honest labor for fair pay’s been the name of my game for decades now, and I think I’ve ended up relatively sensitive even without training. I even can manage my own anger, and I’ve never had anything but respect from the laborers in the shipyards and on the docks. I may die poor, but I’m living rich.

    1. In small businesses and especially in industries where there is a lot of self-employment, people tend to work out their own differences. They tend to be more tolerant of each other eccentricities. On the other hand, environments like breed eccentrics, which can be both annoying and delightful.

      1. ‘Eccentric’ sounds like my 80 year old uncle. I prefer ‘quirky,’ myself. It seems to come down a bit heavier on the delightful side of things.

  2. After being assaulted in the workplace by a client (I’d warned supervisor about many times) I was sent off for anger management training.
    Not long after I quit and became self employed. Yes, I was a tough boss but at least I could trust myself to take care of me.

    1. I don’t think I could make it as a thorn tree. Heck, she won’t even let me go three days without shaving the stubble off. What’s a guy to do?

  3. Please stop trying to inspire me. Your sensitivity post and the various responses has convinced me that corporate/management alzheimers does exist. It would make a great coffee table book. On another note my goal in taking the My Ears Briggs test was to never let them know what was going on between my ears and while doing so not end up confined to the brig.

  4. I always try to leave your posts for first thing in the morning when I have plenty of time to enjoy and them with my first cup of coffee. So…picture me who spent years in HR dealing with the ‘loads.’ In so many cases, management would choose to ‘promote’ that load into an unnecessary job in a nice quiet office so they wouldn’t be disturbed shopping and checking FB. Then, of course, someone doing their job would need to be terminated in order to balance out the load’s increase in pay. Ask me. Go ahead. Ask me if I miss it. NO. 🙂

  5. Always looking for the silver lining in your work life, eh? I’ve never worked where I had to take sensitivity training, but then I know what my favorite tree is… so I may have proved myself to be sensitive enough already. 🙄

    1. Never worked where you had to take sensitivity training, eh? In large companies and government agencies, the following scene is not unusual:

      Boss: I signed you up for sensitivity training.
      Me: Again?
      Boss: Yes, again.
      Me: What did I do now?
      Boss: Nothing, it’s just that we have money left over in the human relations training budget and its use it or lose it.

  6. You’ve reminded me why I am happy to be retired, Greg. I was headed for sensitivity training (or worse!) before I quit my job a few months ago. I had reached my quota of bullshit and could no longer keep my mouth shut about it. What a relief to be out of that environment!

    1. It is amazing how many people describe their last few years or months like that. Are they being pushed out the door or is it their growing inability to put up with dysfunction? Probably both, or the workplace is simply getting more and more dysfunctional.

      1. I think there was a definite combination of both in my case. My boss (who I had for a total of 3 months) was overjoyed when I gave my notice. I called her on it saying I was surprised at how happy she was to see me go. She sputtered something about being happy she was for me, but she knew I was onto her. And yes, the workplace is getting more dysfunctional, too. When my husband can retire we’ll both be so happy to be done with corporate America.

  7. I once gave a review where I wrote that the individual was not working up to potential. This was my nice way of saying lazy. You guessed it. A complaint to HR that I expected more out of this individual than others on the team of ten. Big investigation and the other nine castigated the poor soul. I was still required to apologize and accept the level of work delivered as the best the person could do. I retired two months after.

    1. After twenty-five years of excellent performance reviews, I got a less than stellar review from a supervisor who always complimented me on my work.

      “What am I doing wrong?” I asked.
      “Nothing, your work is great.”
      “Then why the less than great rating?”
      “How can I show you improved, if I don’t give you room to do it?”


      1. My last review was far exceeds with no pay increase. The reason? “The money needed to go to those who are just beginning their carreer.” Retired in two months.

  8. Yep, that’s governmental strategy, all right.
    Laughing my ass off as I think about the number of times and amount of $$ spent on Myers-Briggs. Uffda!

    1. Consultant: Greg, your test scores place you firmly in this quintant.
      Me: I though Myers-Briggs have only four sections, that would be quadrant.
      Consultant: but you landed in a quintant.
      Me: That’s impossible.
      Consultant: I know.

  9. Greg, I’m laughing at you post & your comments. True, all of that! HR in health care a tad better, but still the senseless policies are right in your face. I remember mandatory sensitivity trading for everyone! I was also a nurse practitioner/manager (5 years)in Behavioral Health. Working with staff who slide by & balk at responsibility (it’s not my job) my worst nightmare. So, the sliders are everywhere! 📚🎶 Christine

    1. but still the senseless policies are right in your face

      It’s one reason that startups are so successful, they have yet to develop dysfunction. That comes with time.

    1. This was civil service – where people were literally allowed to do absolutely nothing. A guy had a quilt in his cube, so he could take naps. It is one reason why people look down on civil servants, but while one person is doing nothing, others are putting in 70 hour weeks (no paid overtime).

      One day, a member of our team said, “If we could just find someone to do his job, I could have dinner with my family.” Sadly, the union felt it necessary to protect those who did nothing, at the expense of other union members who put in unpaid hours to keep the projects on track.

      So glad to be out of it, though I did love my job.

    1. Almost like living things, organizations have a life cycle. They begin with startup, mature through growth, decline, and end with organizational death. The top of the arc, the point at which growth ends and decline begins occurs when screwball policies and practices become more important than productivity and growth.

  10. You went badly wrong at the point when your manager asked how your project was going. In my view this was a chance spurned to grab him by the lapels and shout: “Blow it out your goddamn ass, butterball!” right into his nosey shmuck face.

        1. Just my sweet side. I no longer try to run people down in the parking lot. I wait until they are on the street, that way it is not a company problem. See, the training works. 🙂

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