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Adrian Pitt

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Oh no! I hate role play!


Every now and again, we include role play in some of our training sessions. More often than not, one or two learners will sigh and make it quite clear that they HATE HATE HATE role play!

One of my colleagues calls it "skills practice". Nevertheless, however hard we try to "wrap it up" as something woolly and fluffy, for some folk, it's like we're asking them to walk across barbed wire!

Why do you think this is? Do you have any top tips to convince the cringers in the audience to go with it?


10 Responses

  1. Most people who don’t like
    Most people who don’t like role play/skill practice/reality practice/Exercises or whatever feel that way because they don’t want to lay themselves open to criticism.
    So before you mention role play explain how the feedback process works-
    a) you are only allowed to give positive feedback- ie “I liked the way you did x”
    b) you can make a positive suggestion- ie “it might have worked better if you had done Y.”
    NO NEGATIVE CRITICISM ALLOWED (this isn’t being wet- if a person screwed up they can see this and they don’t need anyone else telling them…if someone is really so self unaware they will notice by the total absence of a).
    I got this method from the late Gordon Bessant and it has served him and me brilliantly for years!

  2. You’ve already sussed the
    You’ve already sussed the ‘Don’t call it role play!’ technique :-). Personally I don’t force them – sometimes they are happy to play the role of observer first to ease them into it – often they will then take their turn.

    Other things: I’ve hired a drama student so that they can just practise being themselves, rather than having to go in character, I also discovered a technique where a group of people share one role and take turns to be the spokesperson – its a bit messy but does get everyone involved!

    I might happen to mention that when I train business folk to mentor young people, they invariably report, after role play, that trying to get into the headspace of a 16 year old is more valuable than practising their own skills.

    Of course, the other good news (which again, I may happen to mention…) is that these are the very people who write on the evaluation form that the best thing about the course was the role play!

  3. Hi Ade, I think the issue
    Hi Ade, I think the issue with Role Play is that it’s essentially an am dram session where people have a small amount of time to read about and play an ‘assumed’ character. Not everyone is an extrovert and would die inside when given this type of task.
    I much prefer ‘real play’ where people play themselves and use real-life situations; not ones that have been made up.
    This means that you facilitate the group to come up with a scenario or scenarios that are real to them and they play themselves in that scenario not a character they have been given.

    1. Building on Clive’s point, I
      Building on Clive’s point, I think that it’s the uncertainty that causes worry among people i.e. are they expected to be confident extroverts suddenly because they’re roleplaying? The important thing to underline for me is that, in many situations, there are a range of ways to deal with a situation and it’s about doing it in whatever style you feel comfortable with. Within the confines of your chosen style, there are nuances that increase or decrease the chances of success. People inevitably think they are being judged on their style, not on the nuances, and making the reality clear can help reduce the tension that people feel with roleplay.

  4. Just a few alternatives here
    Just a few alternatives here Ade:

    When I encounter people who are uncomfortable with role play I often use a Freeze Frame activity. I role play with my co facilitator or a confident member of the group deliberately and subtly demonstrating non attentive body language/failure to listen….. members of group need to suggest improvements, when ready they shout Freeze Frame, we take on board the suggestions and re play the scene incorporating their suggestion. This technique never fails to get everyone involved and generates lots of discussion around impact with or without intent.

    1. Nice idea! Speaking as
      Nice idea! Speaking as someone who immediately tenses up when role play is mentioned, this seems like a great alternative 🙂

  5. Thanks everyone, some great
    Thanks everyone, some great replies, thoughts and insights. Video seems to work well when there are two characters onscreen that learners can critique. I love the “Freeze Frame” idea!

  6. Hi Ade
    Hi Ade
    Everyone of the 10 delegates yesterday said the same thing but gave good feedback afterwards.

    I try to sell it in by saying that we can talk about skills until we’re ‘blue in the face’ but it’s the trying out the skills (and subsequent feedback) is important, and the training room is probably the ‘safest’ place.

    I also mention some ground rules to allay fears:
    1. No role playing in front of total group – we split into threes (1 Influencer; 1 Influencee; 1 Observor)
    2. No video recordings
    3. If you make a mistake then stop; rewind and start again (can’t do that in real life!)
    4. What is said and done during the role plays stays in the training room
    5. Observers to offer positives first in feedback; then development areas

  7. Great discussion and great
    Great discussion and great input. If we think of roleplay as practice and not knowledge transfer then the level of feedback has to be at a professional level. Imagine if professional athletes or artists only relied on peer feedback. In order to create a safe practice, measure the skill level (for ROI and learner journey), and deliver the content knowledge effectively hire professional roleplayers and do the roleplay scenarios 1:1 in private not in a group. This approach instantly removes all the social issues and the data proves overwhelmingly that the learners improve.

  8. As an introvert, I can say I
    As an introvert, I can say I hate role play for a number of reasons. 1) It feels fake and disingenuous, and therefore a futile waste of time, 2) As an INFP, I prefer to think before I speak, and role play often does not allow time and space for that, and 3) Affective and conceptually, many trainers are extroverts by nature, so when a presumed extrovert announces to the room that we’ll be doing role play (an extroverted activity), it immediately feels like my needs and preferences have not only been ignored in favor of what’s more comfortable for the presenter, but in fact, like I’ve intentionally been told I’ll be put on the spot and I’ll just have to deal with it because someone else is running the show. Introverts are often quite and pushed along in day to day activities by those who speak first and think later. So, when I attend any training where I’m asked to “become one of them” I already have pre-existing resentment towards that world view. To be put in a situation where I don’t have a choice, and where my learning style or way of experiencing the training is devalued or brushed aside, turns me off to both the presenters and to the material being presented.

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