The Hidden Diversity Workshop

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The Agenda for the Workshop

This workshop starts with the baseline. Customer care needs to ensure that staff are informed and also have “bought into” the underpinning values of equality and diversity and gone beyond the minimal legal requirement of making “reasonable adjustments”. There’s a difference between technically and correctly “doing” reasonable, and also “feeling” and “being” reasonable.

The workshop will  uncover and explore staff beliefs and values about what customer care is, and link it to their stereotypes and values concerning disability. This adds “disability awareness” to “disability compliance”. We’ll look at the difference between visible and hidden disabilities, also “labelled” and “unlabelled” disabilities.

But we have to go further. In a diverse customer base, customers are all unique and see themselves as both individual and members of groups with “equal rights”. Training here is about staff really “getting”this idea, and seeing how we need to be skilled at “multitasking” in this area – being able to see the customer simultaneously as an individual AND a member of a demographic group with generic rights and needs. This is about being able to be both situational and contextual, individual AND organisation focused, able to “juggle” different needs and know when to apply systems clearly and rigidly and when to flex and use individual initiative.

Here the workshop will be experiential and interactive:

– enabling deep and meaningful discussion and reflection on organisational expectations and personal values and beliefs around what diversity really is

– allowing participants to practice new skills in recognition, diagnosis of situations, prioritising issues, and knowing how to be flexible to each individual, yet assertive of procedures and the law

It is a training in recognising, valuing and working with diversity, within the context of understood and authentically bought-into values and processes.

“I’m visually impaired but don’t want to be treated as if I can’t see.”

“I don’t want or need all of these “reasonable” adjustments. I just want “this” in my house.

“I need a ramp around the back of the house, not the front. I don’t use my front door.”

“I want to feel someone s really listening to me here.”

Some disabilities are clinically diagnosable. Others are more self-labelled. We all have a different mix of diversities, some of which may help and some of which may hinder our ability to act in the world in ways we would call satisfactory to ourselves or to others. Some have names, some have therapies, some have “reasonable adjustments” made for them. Others are hidden, sometimes even from ourselves. We are all born perfect in our imperfections! We are on very dangerous territory when organisations and “others” label those imperfections even AS imperfection, and when they label them and impose those labels onto us. Yet, in a customer-deliverer interaction, often it is the hidden diversities that may be at play – our inability to take in information, a “trigger” that makes us respond fearfully, an inability to read tables of numbers or understand money matters over the telephone. We may not be aware of our quick temper, or we may not be well physically coordinated.

We may also be pre-diagnosis – we may stumble on stairs or during a conversation because of a medical condition yet to be identified, or never diagnosed in the first place. The important thing is not to label the diversity but to be able to become aware of it and, as a supplier of service, to respond sensible, sensitively and helpfully to it, whilst maintaining the standards of the organisation we work for.

This training in customer care relating to disability will also connect properly with the wider customer care processes for the organisation. There will be standard processes and staff will also need to learn how to “switch” between different types of customer. This ability to switch and change is hard for some staff used to one way of doing things. So, training also needs to identify how we learn new skills, and change in real time, how we switch between processes and then quickly switch back. It’s as much about our tone of voice, our ability to observe ourselves, give and take feedback, learn from mistakes and deal with pressure and stress.

Training Approach

This session of training will need to stick, be real, engaging and challenging. It has to be done in workshop, not classroom format, and it can feel energising and enjoyable. It can change lives, not only for the staff, but also for the customers. Some of the best organisations I have worked with in this area are training their staff to move beyond the notion of “reasonable adjustments”. The term itself already locates a section of society as “off-normal”, needing to be adjusted to! Making “Reasonable adjustments” is still the main approach used when adapting buildings and carrying our upgrade work.

Elsewhere, especially on the front line of customer care, the skill is really about, not adjusting, but in meeting each customer anew, whoever they are, with the ability to listen, quickly and efficiently identify the need and formulate a truthful, valuable response that meets the customer’s individual needs within the clearly explained and mutually understood boundaries of the organisation’s policies, procedures and customer “promises”.

In this case, we don’t “adjust”, we simply meet each customer as an individual with skilful flexibility. We “customise”, and allow the customer to feel they are doing the same. It is kept “real” and in-budget by clearly understood standards and expectations, with clear and assertive communication and active, respectful listening.

The workshop will be:
– interactive
– challenging and based on real examples 
– hands-on
– focused on action and real change back at base

We’ll draw on plenty of stories and examples, as well as useful and usable approaches.

Outcomes of the session will include:
– a deeper dive into customer care
– a more profound and challenging look at this aspect of customer care
– new attitudes and behaviours that will benefit tenants
– new ideas and approaches to take away

We’ll be working during the day with actors working with different scenarios (It is not the dreaded role play!). No one will be getting up on stage and being embarrassed. We work in small groups, informally around real examples. Don’t expect Powerpoint. And we’ll treat you as grown ups. This is aimed at being a highly useful, adult conversation about diversity and customer care.

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