Diversity Training Games and Exercises

As my eldest son becomes a pre-teen, emotional intelligence, acceptance, empathy and understanding have become hot topics in our house. As new as these issues may be for us, they’ve been hot for quite a while in businesses and organizations, as indicated by the popularity of this LinkedIn discussion and others. Following is a synopsis of some diversity activities that our colleagues have posted online. However, before we get into any specifics, we should remember Lee Duffy’s words of wisdom:
“When facilitating any activity to do with diversity, it is so important to be prepared for strong emotional responses from participants, as you dig and get to the bottom of issues such as bias and inequity, which is invariably these activities head. People don’t like having the things that make them human exposed in public forums generally.”

The Diversity Game

The Diversity Game by the Ned Hermann Group is classic, affordable, and uses sound methodology. It quickly gives groups a picture of their mental preferences and avoidance patterns and provides activities that invite people to talk about ways they might work together more effectively and synergistically. Then everyone’s strengths can come into play and differences become an asset, not a liability.  The Diversity Game is based on the Herrmann Whole Brain Model that divides mental processing preferences into four distinct clusters or style preferences:

  • Logical/analytical
  • Planned/organized
  • Interpersonal/emotional
  • Holistic/synthesizing

Face Value

For this non-verbal activity, all you need for this one is a deck of cards. Before beginning, explain to the group that you will be handing each participant a card and they are not to look at their own card. Without using verbal cues, participants will treat each other based on the value of the card. For example, if a person has a high value card, you may want to bow or if a person has a low value card, you might want to snub them. Hand each participant a card. Explain that, when they are told, participants are to put their card on their forehead (without looking at it). When everyone has a card, have the group put the cards on their foreheads. Let the group mingle for 3 to 5 minutes (for a large group, you might to add a few extra minutes).

After a few minutes of mingling, have the participants form groups based on what they think the value of their card. High cards on one side, low cards on the other and middle cards in the middle. Once each group is formed, participants may look at their cards.

Debrief questions
• How did you know if you were a high card? Low card? Middle Card?
• How did you treat high cards? Low cards? Middle cards?
• Who decided which cards are more valuable than others?
• How about Aces, are they high cards or low cards? How were they treated?
• How does this activity relate to how we communicate in everyday life? How do we treat people that we do not know how to value?

NOTES:  Potential challenges to conducting this activity: For smaller groups, you may have to choose the cards rather than hand out cards at random. Be sure that there is a good mix of high, low and middle cards. Include at least one ace. Also remember, there is no right or wrong way to answer. It is important for participants to look at how they did actually react rather than at how they think they should have reacted or will react in the future.
Source:   Michelle Cummings, M.S. Playing With a Full Deck. United States: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2007.  Posted online by Monica Miller

Share a story

Everyone has had times in their lives when they felt they didn’t “fit in.” (Share a personal story.) Then say, “Think back to a time when you felt different. Everyone has felt different…. no matter who they are, where they lived, or how they grew up.”  Then ask “What happened? How did you feel? What did you do? How did you overcome?  Encourage sharing in small groups first, then poll the group. Apply/summarize what they say in relationship to diversity.  Posted online by Chris Corrado

Mr. Potato Head

 I use Mr. Potato Heads. We have a collection of over 50 and a bunch of pieces and parts. In the end they are all Mr. Potato Heads but all very very different. The classes generally have fun and then when you line them all up you get a nice visual of the diversity too. Posted online by Gary Higgins, Ed.D

Danger of Labels

I have used an exercise where you print out labels for everyone. Some say “I never pay attention,”" I disagree with everybody,” etc. Put the labels on the persons forehead without them reading it. Then have interaction to see if they can figure out what their personality is. This really opens discussion on how we perceive different people and how we treat them accordingly. Posted online by Deborah Chandler

The Single Story

After a discussion on how we form perceptions and how they lead to stereotypes, I use the movie clip by Chimamanda Adichie who is a Nigerian Novelist giving a talk on TED.com called ‘The danger of the single story.” It is a beautiful 15min talk on stereotypes and the impact of having single stories about people and places. Then I ask people to share in small groups: How their story has been misunderstood by others. How they have misunderstood others’ stories. To share something of their story that others do not know. How they can go about avoiding single stories about others. I have been amazed at how people open up and share meaningfully. The talk is easily downloaded from www.TED.com. Posted online by Heidi Pasques

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