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Trainer’s Diary: Role Plays and Video Tape


Byron Kalies This week Byron Kalies explains why he's resorted to the "like it or lump it" school of coercion when it comes to role plays.

There's hardly anything guaranteed to get the course off with a dull thump as the sentence: "Oh, and yes - we will be running role plays and yes they will be videoed."

People have a fear of both aspects and I seem to have spent a fair amount of my working life either:
a) defending the use of both; or
b) counselling people who have got themselves into such a state that it would be cruel to subject them to the process.

For me, the justification is simple and straightforward and has been finally tuned throughout the years as a series of replies to the predictable pattern of questions:
Delegate: "I hate doing role plays"
Me: "And why is that then?"
Delegate: "It's so false"
Delegate: "Yes - it's like this training course - it's nothing like life."
Me: "So exactly what universe do you think we're in now then? A virtual world of training ?"
Delegate: "Well - you know what I mean - I wouldn't react in that way back at the office."
Me: "Really, Why on earth not? You choose your reactions that skilfully do you? You decide you'll react unskilfully on a training course, but of course always behave skilfully back at the office?"
Delegate: "Well no, but it's different. I hate seeing myself on TV."
Me: "So do I - I used to think I was a six-feet tall Welsh Adonis with a full head of hair. Having seen myself I realise I'm not - so I now have the same view of myself as you have - which can only be helpful, don't you think?"
Delegate: "But it's acting"
Me: "What's being a manager then?" etc, although far less cynical and so much longer.

Having gone through a trillion discussions such as this, frequent upsets and eventual:
"Well that was the best training experience I've ever had. You really can see yourself and learn so much. Oh and by the way you were right you do forget all about it after a few minutes..."

I've adopted a different approach. I call it the no-option, no negotiation approach. It's pretty much as it says.

It's perfectly clear with every bit of pre-course work that goes out that video and role plays will be used. This dramatically reduces the above discussion but as we all know doesn't end it. There is always one.

"I didn't know there were role plays."
"It did state it on the course documentation."
"But I hate videoing. It's not real."
"Ah well. This is an even greater learning opportunity for you then isn't it?"
"But I don't want to do it"
"OK - well I'll see you around, I guess you'll be the one on the operating table telling the surgeon he's using the wrong scalpel," I reply (although far less cynical but taking roughly the same amount of time).

But seriously though I do know the psychology. I know the fear. I know it'll be uncomfortable and if there were a better way I would use it. I don't put people through this for fun. I do it because I feel it's the right thing to do.

I've seen the research - I've seen the results and I've spent a fair amount of time doing this so treat me like a professional.

Training (like stand up comedy) is a job most people - especially managers - especially senior managers - deep down think they could do better than I can. But they can't - trust me - This is what I do. Trust me - I'm a trainer.

* Byron Kalies' latest book "25 Management Techniques in 90 Minutes" (Management Books 2000) was published January 2005, for more information click here.


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