Your Words Matter

Your Words Matter

Dr. Rayford Barner & Dr. Reginald Jackson

If the recently published book Fire and Fury by author Michael Wolfe isn’t enough to convince you that your words matter, then we are not certain what will. As you listen to the conflicting accounts of what is written in Wolfe’s book between President Trump’s administration and the author, there is no debate whether the context of conversation matters. As a trainer, when people misunderstand the context of the words you choose, can this lead to the wrong impression of the trainer, the content or the organization? In a previous blog article titled, “What does Caitlyn Jenner have to do with our training?” the article discussed how a trainer’s examples can offend some adult learners because of offensive stereotypes. We tend to believe a trainer’s examples can do so, and given that traditional institutions are increasingly pluralistic, all trainers should be mindful of their audience when using descriptors involving race, culture, ethnicity and gender.

 Should your word choice and context of usage about race, culture and ethnicity in a training organization matter? Why?

We concede that, depending upon what adult learners are training to understand, some topics discussed can be perceived as negative—even if the intent is not. However, all good trainers understand that they should:

  1. Use only approved content descriptions with when speaking about sensitive subject matter,
  2. Leave their personal feelings aside, and
  3. Corral any negative comments by participants.

For example, training first responders on issues of Homeland Security typically includes a historical conversation on international terrorism, most of which focuses on Muslim, Middle-Eastern and South Asian communities but does not exclude the involvement of other groups. It is important for an exemplary trainer to separate the few individuals who participate in acts of terrorism from the larger cultural communities and contrast the negative with the positive contributions of the groups discussed. If this does not occur, could first responders overtly target or profile a race, ethnicity or culture for the actions of a few? Therefore, good trainers should lecture or facilitate with precision to avoid the perception of offending participants in attendance and creating training scars because of poor word choice.

To assist you, we offer some simple suggestions of how to avoid being perceived as insensitive, offensive, or biased because of your choice of words and the context of delivery. Our list is not exhaustive, but it is a starting point for developing exemplary delivery skills.

  1. Stay on-message by using the prescribed course content.
  2. No one in your session should ever know your political affiliation or personal biases, which always requires a strong degree of control.
  3. Set strict guidelines at the beginning of each session so everyone is clear about expected behaviors.
  4. If there is a hot-topic discussion, try to remain as neutral as possible.
  5. Professionalism is your main objective.

Can you think of other good practices? If so, what are they?

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One comment

  • “Use only approved content descriptions with when speaking about sensitive subject matter,” — sounds good in theory, but in practice this sounds like a nightmare. Who is doing the approving? Clearly it will vary from organization to organization. But how does a trainer handle when there is no time for “approval”?

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