The dreaded role-play! When most people find out that they’re required to do a role-play as part of a training course they groan ‘oh no, do we have to?’ especially when it’s in front of their peers. Most would willingly trade the role-play for a five thousand word essay which is arguably more arduous and less beneficial. Why does the thought of doing a role-play have this effect?
- They’re artificial – not like real life, so you don’t behave the same way and don’t give a true account of yourself
- The high probability that you will make a mistake under pressure and look foolish or incompetent in front of your colleagues
- The embarrassment of being put ‘on the spot’ and not knowing how to respond or ‘freezing’ at the crucial moment
- Knowing that you are going to get ‘feedback’ which will inevitably include some criticism or areas that ‘require improvement’
Having been on both sides of innumerable role-plays over the last 25 years – we know they can play a vital part in the learning process. We get surprising feedback ourselves from people who, afterwards say that the role-play was the highlight of the session and the section from which they learnt the most important lessons about themselves.
So how do we ensure that use of role-play has maximum benefit for the participant with minimum cringe factor?
Make them Realistic – do research on the background and context for the role-play; include appropriate technical details, style of language and genuine issues.
Make them Relevant – take examples of activities the participant will face in their job role – and get their input on the context e.g. Handling Complaints, Conducting Performance Reviews, Dealing With Objections, Making Presentations, Selection Interviews etc.
Make them Safe – talk about the methodology you are going to use, and that they can stop, rewind, and try again at any stage, it’s a chance to learn from their mistakes; after all, it’s better to make mistakes amongst your peers than in front of your customers.
Make them Structured – provide a framework with some kind of rationale or logic to the order of events and enough flexibility to adapt to the individual; and explain the criteria for the feedback and how it is designed to help.
Role-plays can be challenging, thought-provoking and fun ways to draw out and develop participants’ interpersonal skills.