Why did I choose this tool?
I believe that many of the identity issues can be predicted if we do our research on the people arriving to the project. Yes, there will be errors, but having an understanding of potential conflicts and misunderstandings can give us the preparation for dealing with the conflict when it arises. I have seen on projects how certain identity issues—e.g., related to gender, sexual orientation, and age—can cause confusion and could have been resolved if the trainers knew ahead of time that there were going to be these challenges.
How does this apply to being a trainer?
As a trainer, we are working with groups of people who often come from various backgrounds. Our role is to help them learn by setting up the environment conducive for them to learn. Some environments work better for people of some groups than others, and by planning for the identities of the participants that will attend, we can better develop, adjust, and apply the methods that will likely help everyone learn. When we don’t do this, we have to improvise, which can be difficult depending on what needs to be adjusted. For example, if we need to change spoken words to be relevant to the audience, we can do that pretty well during the session, but if we have to change written words, it would be a lot more difficult to do so and print them on time.
Different people will attend our workshops, and with them, they will bring a multitude of identities. Each person will have an identity along certain dimensions, with varying strengths, for example:
- Sexual orientation
- Dietary restrictions
- Family role
- and many more.
Also, in running a training, there are many areas we have to plan, such as:
- Sleeping arrangements
- Alcohol rules
- Metaphors and examples we use
- Language we use
- Session room arrangements
- Team assignments
- Physicality of exercises
- and many more.
If we are unaware of the identities of the participants before they arrive, we may plan the training in a way that will conflict with their identities.
- Sleeping arrangements: put four people in a room who seem to be women, but one is transgender and had to use an official name, which is feminine, on the application, and does not want to stay with women, because he identifies as a man.
- Alcohol rules: allow anyone to drink and bring alcohol, and then realize that some participants are Muslim and are against the use of alcohol.
- Meals: plan to have national evenings where people cook food from their country, and then realize that half of the participants are vegetarian and the people didn’t plan a dish for vegetarians.
- Metaphors and examples: plan to communicate using examples about going to university, and then realize that 80% of the people in the room have never gone to university.
- Language we use: plan to have materials printed in advanced English, and then realize 30% of the participants only speak basic English.
- Session room arrangements: plan to have breakout groups on the second floor, and then realize 3 participants are in wheelchairs and the venue doesn’t have an elevator.
- Team assignments: plan to put people together in diverse teams before the project, and then realize that each team is composed of people from the same country.
- Physicality of exercises: plan to have a workshop where participants do a standing exercise, and then realize that one of the participants is in a wheelchair.
So how can we know the identities of the participants before the participants arrive?
- Be upfront with participants that we want to know more about their identities so we can plan a training that will take everyone into consideration and work best for all.
- Put questions in the application related to identity
- Review the answers to the application questions
- Talk with the participants before arriving about any concerns they’ll have related to their identity
- Talk with our team about the types of identities we expect on the project
No matter how much we plan for the different identities on the project, we will still make mistakes and have to improvise solutions. This article talks about how we may reduce the amount of adjusting we have to make on the fly by planning for the identities on the project and also by priming ourselves to think about identity before the project begins.
- What is one time when you ran a training and failed to take into consideration the identities?
- What is one identity of yours that you think a trainer would fail to take into consideration?
- What is one time when you felt confused because it seemed the trainer was speaking to someone that wasn’t you?
- What is one identity you often overlook when planning your trainings?
- What is one identity you feel afraid to work with?
- How do you feel when you think about asking some of these identity questions in an application?
- How do you feel when you think about limiting a workshop to specific identities?
- How do you feel when you think about planning exercises for people who have an identity different than you?
- What are some identity dimensions/categories that I didn’t include above?
- What are some other ways you can learn about the participants identities before they arrive?
- How could you also learn about the identities of the people on your training team?
How to apply it in everyday life
- Before going to meet with someone, whether a date or a new business contact, learn more about their identities before you arrive.
- Read a short biography from someone and try to identify the identities they described.
- Interview a friend and ask them about the identities that are important to them in their life, using some of the dimensions/categories from above.