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Communication & Listening Exercises

Over the years, I’ve collected these communication exercises and activities from a variety of LinkedIN discussions and recommendations from trainers and business people. If you aren’t sure how to choose a team building game, view How to Choose a Teambuilding Game Infographic. If you’re looking for games to purchase, please visit Trainers Warehouse for a great selection of resources. Additional Active Listening Exercises are here.

Because this list of exercises has become increasingly popular, I’ve recently tried to re-organize it.  I’ve divided the activities into the following nine categories:

  • Perception – different people lend different meaning to words or images
  • Building Relationships & Emotional Connectedness
  • Becoming aware of assumptions
  • Speaking clearly and following instructions– given the same instructions, different people achieve different results. Do people ask questions or not?
  • Actions speak louder than words – say one thing and do another
  • Dealing with hindrances – what happens if you can’t see each other or speak out loud.
  • Listening & Feedback
  • Coordinating many people
  • Communicating between teams

Immediately below is an outline of the nine categories along with a quick snapshot of each game suitable for that goal. Farther down the page, you’ll find facilitation suggestions, notes and comments for each exercise.

1. Perception – Lending Meaning

1.1  Play with Dough – explore perceptions and build creativity
1.2  Selective Attention – the invisible gorilla and the impact of perception
1.3  Interpretation of Meaning – see how different words and phrases can be interpreted
1.4  List-Less – when the obvious word isn’t stated, players assume it was
1.5  Old lady-Young Lady  – in this familiar optical illusion some see an old woman and some see a young woman
1.6 The Dress. Is it Black and Blue or is it White and Gold? – people can see (or hear) the same thing and lend different meanings to what they perceive

2. Building Relationships & Emotional Connectedness

2. 1 Silver Series Thumballs – balls imprinted with discussion prompts. Available in over a dozen work-friendly topics (diversity, ethics, leadership, team dynamics, getting to know you, etc.)
2.2  Open-Ended Question Challenge – start with one question and follow up with 4 more
2.3  UNZIP-it! Card decks with great discussion prompts packed in a playful pouch

2.4 UNZiP-IT! Remote PowerPoint files for virtual/online/remote learning and meetings

3. Becoming aware of assumptions

3.1  Challenging Assumptions – puzzle that requires you NOT to turn over all the pieces (ADD)
3.2  Making a Fist and Opening it – players assume the one making the fist should resist
3.3  Arm “Wrestle” – players assume a contest when it’s not set up to be.

4. Speaking clearly and following instructions

Given the same instructions, different people achieve different results. Do people ask questions or not? These communication exercises prompt people to speak clearly and follow directions.

4.1  Paper Folding
4.2  Paper Cut
4.3  Draw What you Hear
4.4  Building-a-Model
4.5  Blocked Perspective
4.6  PBJ Sandwich Instructions
4.7 Dominoes (or Tangrams)
4.8  Building Blocks
4.9 Minefield Maze Game

Session Openers Thumball

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5. Actions speak louder than words – say one thing and do another

5.1  Showing vs. Telling
5.2  Hear it. See it. Do it. (A.K.A. Simon Says)
5.3 Good Marker, Bad Marker . . . Okay? Ready? – determine which is which not by the hands, but by the last word in the sentence.

6. Dealing with HINDRANCES – what happens if you can’t see each other or speak out loud

6.1  Pass the Ball – can you pass a ball blindfolded, without speaking?
6.2  Blindfolded egg-in-spoon Obstacle Carry – explores the impact of distraction

7. Listening & Feedback

7.1  Just Listen – one speaks, the other listens with no response
7.2  Draw It – see the difference between negative and positive feedback when someone is following instructions
7.3  Telephone Game – see how messages change when communicated between many people
7.4 . Retelling the Story – see how a story changes as it’s passed through many listeners
7.5  Happy and Sad Behaviors – when sharing experiences, see impact of listening/non-listening behaviors
7.6  Question Challenges – puzzlers that require focused listening
7.7  Situational Awareness and Active Listening – do you “hear” what’s not being said?
7.8  Difficult Customer Role Play
7.9  Not Listening or A-B-C Listening – experience a variety of non-listening behaviors
7.10  Red Ball, Blue Ball – make sure your message is heard, not just spoken
7.11  Matrix Puzzle – work together with individual clues to solve a mystery
7.12 Workstations – work together with individual clues to solve a puzzle
7.13  Zin-Obelisk Game -a matrix puzzle that requires coordination and information sharing

8. Coordinating many people

8.1  Helium Stick – try to lower the pole and see it rise up instead
8.2  Pipelines – send a marble down the pipeline without dropping it
8.3  Colourblind – figure out the missing shape
8.4  Pass the Chicken – deal with increasing complexities
8.5  River Crossing – rely on others instructions if you can’t see your way
8.6  Toxic Waste – coordinate players to move basket suspended by  ropes
8.7  Simbols – plan a complex diagram and recreate it under tight timeframe
8.8  Electric Maze – find your way through a maze without setting off a bomb
8.9  Marshmallow Challenge – build a tall structure out of spaghetti and tape
8.10  Perfect Square – form a rope into a perfect square, while blindfolded

9. Communicating between teams

9.1  Seeing the Point – forming 5 similar shapes requires out-of-the-box thinking
9.2  Communication Derailed – negotiation for parts to build the perfect structure
9.3  Minefi­eld
9.4  Chainlink – for customer supplier relationships

The Games

Perception – Lending Meaning

black man image profile or headon

People can view the same image and see something different. Is this man facing frontward or sideways?

1.1) Play with Dough

You could work with play dough or Plasticine clay. First break your group up into smaller groups or teams. The activity is to be done in silence, with no prior preparation.

The dough (at least one lump per person) is placed on a table. The “initiator” of each group starts to make something with the dough, with his/her back to the rest of the team. Give them just one minute to create something.

Once done, the creator moves to another place, away from the team. The next person has to add value to the creation. At no point should there be any communication between team members, verbal or non-verbal. Once all are done, the different creative visions are shared, from the first team member to the last.

Besides being great fun, it brings out the radical differences in perception, distortions in linear communication and the complete skew in execution that can happen. Posted online by Monujesh Borooah

1.2 ) Selective Attention

This is great for groups of 10 or more. I’ve found that only about 20 percent of the people actually pick up the gorilla. Good luck! Posted by Clint Babcock

1.3) Interpretation of Meaning

Use a series of words/phrases and ask the group to write down what the words/phrases mean to them. For example, “this material is outdated”, and “I’ll get back to you in a bit.” These phrases mean different things to different people and that’s why we must be specific when we communicate. The responses are very interesting! Some thought that “a bit” was five minutes, while others thought a day or so. For the material being outdated, the same applied. Some participants thought outdated material could be a month old, while others thought at least a year. It’s interesting how we interpret different things from everyday phrases. Posted by Victoria L. McDevitt

1.4) List-less

Here is a quick one that I use in my workshops: List about 18 related words, pick any topic, for example, sleep, mattress, pillow, snore etc. pick one word to be intermingled in the list three times, such as, the 3rd, 7th, and 12th word will be “sleep.” Leave out one obvious word from the list such as “bed.”  Ask attendees to listen as you read the list to them.

Give them one minute to write as many words as they can remember that you said.  Usually 60% will remember the first word, 75% will get the last word on your list, 80% will remember the word that was repeated three times and 20% will write down the obvious word you never said. Debrief why all this happened and what we can learn from this. Posted by Glen Mountford Tucker

1.5) Old Lady – Young Lady

If you present this familiar illustration, ask people to write down the age of the woman they see in the image. (If they’ve seen this before, request that they abstain from participation and simply observe). Then ask them to raise their hands if the woman looks to be 18-35 or 55-105. Get one volunteer from a “young lady” camp and one from the “old lady” camp to try to persuade the other about what they see. See what sort of communication is needed to convince someone to see data differently. To be successful they will likely need to identify where they see an eye, a hat, a necklace, a chin, etc. and ask their counter to imagine it as something else. (i.e. Imagine that the line you see as the young woman’s necklace is actually the mouth of an older woman…)

1.6 The Dress. Is it Black and Blue or is it White and Gold?

This beautiful dress became viral in 2015, when viewers began arguing whether the dress is blue and black or gold and white. For any who didn’t see it, it’s another great example of people’s ability to see the same thing and lend different meaning to it. Some will see the fringe details as black and the rest of the dress blue. Others will see the fringe as being gold and the rest of the dress white. Challenge your group to convince one another that what they see is “right” and discuss other times when they might be susceptible to miscommunication because they see or hear things differently.

2. Build Relationships & Emotional Connectedness

2.1) Silver Series Thumball

A “Thumball” is a soft vinyl ball that looks like a soccer ball, but is pre-printed with discussion prompts. All Thumballs promote communication and listening and are a great source of questions for groups that want to practice active listening. It can be enlightening to privately tell “listeners” to be disrespectful (look away, interrupt, take a phone call, etc.) and then have the groups discuss the impact of such behaviors. For activities like this, the Getting-to-Know-You Thumball and “Shaped by Our Past” are good choices. Posted online by Susan Landay

However, if your focus is on building “Communication and Listening” skills, the Communication Thumball might be a good place to start as it has specific conversation prompts to help your group talk about best practices and ways to improve their skills. On that ball, the Silver prompts represent effective communication techniques. The challenge with these is to explain why this method is effective and/or give an example of when and how it worked.

The Purple prompts reflect what NOT to say or do. The challenge is to explain why it inhibits good communication and share a more appropriate or more effective approach.

2.2) Open-ended Question Challenge

Either split into pairs or, if the group is not too large, work your way around to each participant.

Ask each participant puts a small financial incentive down as their stake in the game (coins, a pen, etc.). Then challenge them to begin by asking you (or their partner) an open-ended question (what, where, when, why, how). When they get their reply, they must follow-up with four further questions. If they succeed they keep their money. If they ask a closed question they loose their money.

As you do the exercise, it’s okay to put on a bit of time pressure, too.  They will find that only through actively listening to the answers can they keep up the open questioning.  I have Paul Davies of Sigma Management Development to thank for this one. Posted by Alex Lever

2.3) UNZIP-it!

UNZIP-IT! with Common Ground Prompts   $29.95 BUY NOW

If you’re not looking for a big game or are fearful about folks throwing balls at each other, but still want great discussion starters to spark conversation and build relationships, UNZIP-it! may be just right for you. Players unzip the pocket and pull out a prompt. All the content is ready to go — Getting to Know You, Common Ground, Session Openers, Shaped by Our Past, Building Bridges, Diversity, Get Happy at Work, Toolbox talks, Onward and Upward, Be a Leader, Workplace Ethics, Team Dynamics Stress Management.

2.4 UNZiP-IT! Remote

The UNZiP-IT! Remote PowerPoint files make it fun to “play” online as well. Each file is programmed to let you randomly select a question making them fun for online meetings remote training, and virtual learning, as well.

3. Becoming Aware of Assumptions

3.1) Challenging Assumptions

This game is used to raise awareness of preconceptions as small groups work to assemble a seemingly simple puzzle. They start by turning all the pieces face up and there the learning begins. In fact, the puzzle can only be assembled if some pieces look upside-down. (~ $260.00)

3.2) Making a fist and challenging assumptions

Take 2 volunteers from the class. Tell one to make a fist and the other to open it. 99% of the crowd fails in this as one person makes the fist and the other struggles. Why??? Because the person who made the fist resists. Then I tell my class that I had only asked one to make a fist and the other to open it. Never asked to resist. This way I teach them the pros and cons of inactive listening and assumption. Posted by Sohini Mazumder


For this one, you must never say the words “arm wrestle.”  Here’s what you do:

  • Have everyone find a partner.
  • Ask partners to “assume this position.” Demonstrate with a volunteer, and hand link position with both of your elbows on the table.
  • Explain, “This is a very easy exercise. There are two things you must know.
    • 1- you get a point if the back of your partner’s hand touches the table
    • 2-you want to get as many points for yourself as possible. You don’t care about anyone else.
  • Explain, “Each ‘point’ is worth one M&M. You will have only 10 seconds to get as many M&Ms as you can. GO.”

Some teams who assume it’s an arm wrestle will only get 1-2 M&Ms, others will get to 100 if they give in and tap one person’s hand against the table repeatedly. To do this, however, they must not assume a competition and they must communicate about their shared interests.  See here for more info on the debrief.

4. Speaking clearly and following instructions

4.1) Paper Folding

  • Give everyone a sheet of paper.
  • Tell everyone to close their eyes and follow your instructions.
  • Start giving instructions about what to do with the piece of paper examples:

fold it in half
fold the lower-left corner over the upper right corner
turn it 90 degrees to the left
fold it again
rip a half-circle in the middle of the right side

  • Once you have given quite a few instructions (more than 10 at least for a great success), tell everyone to open their eyes and unfold their piece of paper.
  • Even though they all received the same instructions and had the same starting material, pretty much everyone will have a different result.


  • We don’t all start at the same place, (some held their piece of paper vertically or horizontally) so we don’t all have the same results
  • Some interpreted to rip a piece of paper as removing a big piece, some as a small piece
  • Having eyes closed = not receiving feedback on our performance
  • Some instructions appear vague to some and clear to others.
  • Many other conclusions can be drawn on the fly from this

4.2) Paper Cut

This is a 5 to 10-minute, highly effective activity on the importance of perception and asking questions in the communication process. The exercise illustrates the importance of giving meaningful instructions to others and expecting feedback for the correct execution of those instructions. It is fun and quickly makes a point.

Materials needed: one sheet of A4 or 8.5×11 paper for each participant; scissors are optional

Instructions:  Explain to delegates that you are about to give them instructions and they must follow these instructions as given to them. They must follow these quietly and are not allowed to ask any questions. They should not get help from others around them or even look at other people’s work.
If anyone asked questions, simply tell them to follow the instructions as they see fit. Present these instructions:

  • Hold up the papers please.
  • Fold the paper in half.
  • Cut (or neatly tear) off the top right corner of the folded paper.
  • Fold in half again.
  • Cut off the top left corner of the paper.
  • Fold in half again.
  • Cut off the bottom right corner of the paper.
  • Fold in half.
  • Cut off the bottom left corner of the paper.
  • Unfold the paper.

Ask delegates to show off their unfolded papers to each other and examine similarities or differences.

Simply ask:  Did you end up with similar patterns or everyone’s pattern was different? Why is that? Were the instructions clear enough? What was missing? Why feedback is so critical in communication? What happens if feedback is missing? What lessons do we take from this?

Source: Skills Converged;  Posted online by Srishty Gajbhiye

 4.3) Draw what you hear

Pair people up and ask your couples to sit back-to-back. One person in each pair should have a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Once everyone has settled, give the other person in the pair an abstract drawing (different shapes may be joined up together) to describe to the other person in the pair.  Give them two minutes to describe and draw without asking or answering any questions.  Then allow another minute for the drawer to ask questions.

Debrief:  When the time is up, ask them to compare the drawing to the original.  Discuss why there were differences (there always are!). Was it the describing or was it the listening? Was it because they couldn’t ask questions to clarify what was being described and what about not being able to see the person to get the visual clues of looking for an understanding of what one is saying e.g. nodding or frowning etc What about the noise in the room – is it a distraction when you want to listen to someone properly? What should you do to create a good environment for listening; how should you behave to show you are listening? etc .  Posted by Sandie Gay

Variation: Conduct the exercise in a series of rounds. In every round, the communicator will describe a picture we give them of assorted geometrical shapes. Round 1:  the listener/drawer can’t ask any questions. In Round2 , with a different picture of geometric shapes, the listener/drawer can only ask closed-ended questions. Finally, in Round 3, with a different picture of geometric shapes, the listener/drawer can ask anything. We discuss how accurate were the pictures? How well the communicator describes the picture will determine how successful they want to be with a customer. Posted by Annette West

4.4) Building a model


Materials and Preparation – 2 matching sets of children’s building blocks (e.g. Lego), with 10 blocks and 1 baseboard in each set. Using one set of blocks, build a random object using the 10 blocks, onto the baseboard. Optional – 2 bags to contain each set of building blocks.
Time – 45 mins
Group Size – Minimum 3 people, up to about 7.
(You can have duplicate exercises running in parallel if the group is larger, but will need more sets of building blocks).

There are 4 roles in this communication skills game.

A – director
B – runner
C – builder
D – observer(s)


Person A receives a pre-built set of blocks and is the only person who can see the object. It is the director’s job to give clear instructions to person B, the runner, so that person C can build an exact replica of the model.

Person B listens to the director’s instructions and runs to a different part of the room to where person C is sitting. The runner then passes on the building instructions, without seeing the building blocks, to Person C, the builder. The runner can make as many trips as required within the time allowed for the exercise.

Person C listens to the runner’s instructions and builds the object from the set of building blocks. The builder is the only person who can see the object under construction and building materials.

Person(s) D observe the communication game, and make notes about what works, what doesn’t work, and how people behaved under pressure etc., to pass on to the group later.

Set a time limit for the exercise of 10 minutes.


When the time is up, allow the group to compare the model and the replica, and see how closely it matches. Generally, the replica will bear little resemblance to the original, which usually causes heated discussion!

Allow the group to reflect on how the exercise went, and agree 1 thing they did well, 1 thing that didn’t work, and 1 thing they would do better next time.

Run the exercise again, either switching or keeping original roles, and see if any improvements have been made. Make sure you de-construct the “original” model and create a new design!

This simple communication skills game can be run many times without losing learning potential. Teams can add layers of sophistication to their communication by making use of aids such as diagrams, codes, standard procedures and using active listening techniques.  Posted by Najeeb Muhammad

No Peaking

One that works for both listening and communicating is to divide into two (or more) teams and have each team select a leader. The leader is given a set of tinker toys, blocks or Lincoln Logs and a picture of an item that can be built with them. It is his job to communicate to his team what they need to do to build the object without showing them the picture. It is their job to listen and do. The competition between teams is to see who can get their object done first, and closest to the picture. Same object, but in different parts of a large room…. or different rooms. Posted by Linda Williams

Different Angles

We use Tinker Toys. Have 2 people sit facing away from each other. One (the leader) has a series of photos of an object created with tinker toys. 3-4 photos of the object from different angles. The other person (the follow) has the toys in front of him on a table. The leader must get the follower to make the toy within 10 min without either of them turning around. Be sure to call the time at 5 min and then again at 2 min as many will rush to complete the task. The outcome rarely comes put 100% correctly.

Details Matter

Discuss the communication that occurred via observers of what they saw (body language) and heard from the 2 performing the task. Get the 2 doing the task’s input on how it went first. Debrief that even a small error could be an injury, accident, or significant issue to throw off a project or someone’s work. Discuss the various terms used to describe things and how something as simple as explaining the color to someone can divert the outcome. We start the discussion of communication with this exercise and then talk back to it most the week with other things that come up. It can be used as a simple 15 exercise, however, on the importance of communication and that if the outcome isn’t what you wanted (picture = your vision) then it’s generally the leader’s fault for not giving good expectations of what the project should look like in the end and show to successfully get there. It’s powerful. It works well with those that “think” they’re great leaders/communicators. Posted online by Barbara Cates

Blocked Perspectives available at Trainers Warehouse

Blocked Perspectives, available at Trainers Warehouse $73.95 BUY NOW

4.5)Blocked Perspective

This is a new game (for purchase), Blocked Perspective, which provides a set of blocks and a bunch of photographs of the same block structure taken from different angles and perspectives. The different players have different photos and must try to get the “builder” to replicate the structure correctly.  (~ 65.00)

4.6) PBJ Sandwich Instructions

Participants are given recipe cards and instructed to write directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for someone who has never, ever, made a sandwich before and will be following your instructions “exactly.”

Pick one or two recipe cards and follow directions “literally.”

Note: I have put a plastic tarp down under table with ingredients, wear a smock and sometimes rubber gloves to follow the directions.

Enjoy taking instructions like: “spread liberally” “a little” “some” “a lot” and my personal favorite….”smash them together,” literally.

Debrief: Discussions about new employees’ need for details, can we have too many details, different ways words can be interpreted, need for measurements (3T vs. a lot)…

Great just before a break…everyone can make themselves a snack. Have plenty of cold milk on hand.  Posted by Jeri Mae Rowley

4.7) Dominoes (or Tangrams)

One of the listening skills activities that I do is that you have people get in groups of 2, you give one of them a pack of 8 dominos and the other a shape diagram of rectangles (dominos) in a random pattern. Only the person without the dominos should see the pattern. They sit back to back on the floor or the one with the dominos at a table and the other in a chair back to back. The one with the diagram instructs the other on placing the dominos to match the diagram. The one with the dominos cannot speak. They get 2 min. I usually do this in a big group where they are all working in pairs at once.

Then they switch roles, get a new pattern and do the exercise again, this time the person with the dominos is allowed to speak. 2 min. usually successful.

Then we debrief looking at challenges, jargon words used, analyze how they provided instructions without being able to watch the person, tone, questions asked, etc. ( I have this all in a document if you want it) It is quite fun and enlightening for those who are training to be able to be in a support role with technology.  Posted by Karen McRitchie

4.8) Building Blocks

I have found children’s blocks to be very useful in learning to listen. I put together 8 blocks of different shapes and sizes into bags. Then I have people partner up and one person empties the bag while the other is blindfolded and sitting at the table waiting for directions on how to build a specified object with the blocks. As the one without the blindfold gives directions on how to use the blocks to build the specified structure the blindfolded participant has to listen very carefully to the directions and use their sense of touch to determine which block to use and how. I find that when they are under a time limit and given incentives to do their best, people really listen well and get very close to the required structure. We debrief after the exercise and I find a lot of people realize they hear so much more than just the directions when they are blindfolded. It’s also a lot of fun.  Posted by Jeff Trimble

4.9) Maze games (a.k.a. Minefield)

The goal of Minefield Maze games are to get as many of your team’s players through the minefield as quickly a possible, without stepping on any of the booby traps. Success requires excellent communication, trust, leadership and team coordination.

5. Actions Speak Louder than Words

5.1) Telling vs. Showing

This quick exercise can be used as a “closer” or as a listening exercise, to reinforce the message that “actions speak louder than words.” I  say: “Please follow my words. Raise your right hand over your head. Keep following my words. Make a fist. Please make sure to follow my words. Round your fist three times and then put your fist on your forehead! (just before this moment, you put your own fist on your jaw!) You would find most of participant would follow your action and put their fists on their jaws! Someone would find their mistakes and put their fists on their forehead, Then you can say: What happened? I’ve asked you to follow my words for three times, but you follow my actions! Why? Posted online by Mark Guo

Great example of telling your group to do one thing and showing them another. Interesting to see how they hear your instructions: Posted by Denzal Sunny

5.2) Hear it. See it. Do it.  (a.k.a. Simon Says)

Tell the group that they need to listen to whatever you say and do accordingly.

Then tell them a few things like stretch your right arm, touch your knee etc and while saying these instructions, do them yourself. Most participants will look at what you are doing rather than listen to what you are saying.

After a few instructions, tell them that they need to touch their cheek but make sure that with your actions you have touched your chin. Most participants will touch their chin instead of the cheek. Posted online by Rohini D’Souza

5.3) Good Marker, Bad Marker. Okay, Ready?

Hold a pen or marker in your hand. Tell the group that all they’ll have to do is tell me when the marker is a “good” marker and when it is a “bad” marker. Invite participants to come and whisper to you if they think they know what makes the marker good or bad.

Next, hold the marker in your left hand and say “This is a good marker, Okay.” Then throw the marker and catch it in your right hand and say “This is a bad marker. Ready.”  Proceed to do this about 3 or 4 times. “This is a good marker, Okay,” then throw it and catch it in my left and say “This is a bad marker, Ready.” Change it up whether the “good marker” is in your right or left hand, tip up or tip down, passed or tossed, set on a table, dropped to the ground…

Keep going saying, “This is a good marker, Okay” and “This is a bad marker, Ready“until everyone has had a chance to guess.

Finally, reveal the trick: It is a “good” marker when you say the word “Okay,” it is a “bad” marker when you say the word “Ready.

The exercise show people that we allow visual stimuli to get in the way of our listening. I use the Marker to distract them visually so they are not listening. Most trainees get it within a couple of minutes; for those who don’t, I ask them to close their eyes. Once they do this they will usually get it.  Finally, debrief what happened and why it was so hard to “hear” what was going on. We tie this back to active listening. Posted by Thomas Swartwood

6. Dealing with Hindrances – what happens if you can see, hear, or speak?

6.1) Pass the Ball

I created an exercise where the class participants had to pass a ball back and forth to one another. At the start, the group was completely blindfolded and could not speak, next they were still blindfolded but were allowed to speak to one another, and lastly all obstacles to communication were removed, and of course this allowed them to pass the ball freely to one another, even clear across the room with great success.  This exercise has worked really well whenever I used it– as a great demo or to get people charged up for a participatory session.

6.2) Blindfolded Egg in Spoon Obstacle Carry

This out-of-the-box and fun activity is a throwback to when we were kids. Because most people can recognize the game it, puts them at ease relatively quickly, especially if folks don’t know each other well.

It does require a little room but can be adjusted to suit the facilities. I would normally set up 3 – 4 lanes side by side over a reasonable expanse, insert obstacles and challenges in each course (these could be chairs, whiteboards, poles, trip hazards etc.; the number and types of obstacles depend on the site). Then we break into groups of 2. One person is blindfolded and holds an egg on a spoon and the other guides them down the course from a distance.

Added complexities included getting the blind folded person to wear thick gloves. We then swap the participant roles and during this process change the course.

I generally run this with ‘operational’ groups and have received great feedback.  We use this exercise to highlight the importance of communication with so many distractions in workplaces. We also use it to highlight the importance of ensuring each other’s safety – risk awareness and injury prevention. Every time we have run this exercise, it’s a hoot and the feedback is overwhelming good. Posted online by Ann Russell

7. Listening & Feedback

7.1) Shhhh. Just listen . . .

Put the class into dyads. One of the two is selected as the listener. The listener may make only 3 statements during the 5- to 10- minute time allocation. The listener must somehow get the speaker to continue talking without saying much. I ask the speaker to relay a situation that should be comfortable (an award, a special event, etc.). After the time allocation, I then ask the dyads to switch roles. The discussion that follows concentrates on:

  • Speaker’s feelings when the person just listened and did not exchange information
  • Nonverbal signals encouraged the speaker
  • Discomfort caused by the silence
  • Feelings about listening without having the pressure to contribute
  • Speaker’s feeling about the freedom to say whatever he/she felt.

Posted online by Leslie Orr

7.2) Draw it

Another simpler exercise that I’ll use involves asking a volunteer to perform a task for me, but with minimal instructions. (ie. “draw my house.”) Repeatedly, they’ll make submissions and I’ll mockingly berate them for poor job performance. Eventually, I’ll ask them to sit down. I’ll then ask for another volunteer to perform the task, but this time I provide them with great detail. Of course they are able to complete the task with much more success.

7.3) Adapted “Telephone” Game

I’ve used the Telephone Game slightly differently:  Ask six volunteers (from a class of 20) to step outside the room. Invite one person to come back in. Read a prepared 2-sentence script to the class and the volunteer, then put the script away.  Invite the next person into the room and ask Volunteer #1 to tell #2 what was read out. Invite back Volunteer #3. Ask #2 to repeat the message for #3, and so on until all the volunteers have entered.  The class becomes fascinated to hear how the message changes by omitting details, altering words, etc, Finally, share the original version with everyone. The exercise is both instructive and amusing.

Sentences to use:

  • “A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood.”
  • “Hello, I am in Room 701. May I please have the sirloin steak, cooked medium-rare, garlic potatoes, and salad with the dressing on the side?”  (NOTE: Add in some emotion, such as dissatisfaction by the customer, and it becomes even more challenging…and a wonderful opportunity to practice the more difficult interactions with guests.)
  • I have customers requesting different things, all of which include either numbers, sizes, shapes, colours etc. For example, one lady has ordered a special occasion cake of a certain weight and type with specific writing, such as Happy Birthday Joaquim (the names are always of different nationalities and require spelling) and she is asking when it will be delivered and to confirm the price. Another customer has requested a pair of trousers to be shortened and gives details and complains as they are now too short, etc. etc.

7.4) Retelling the Story

One exercise I use to show the shortcomings of poor listening skills is to tell a complicated story about a non-event. I have several people (depending on the amount of time and size of the group, usually about 6) leave the room. I read the story to the first person and the remainder of the class explaining that this first person must tell the story to the next person to come back in the room. The remainder of the class observes and tracks what was left out or changed in the story. When the first person tells the story to the second, the second then tells it to the third until all the people outside the room hear the story. The last person relays what he/she heard. We discuss when and how the information was lost or distorted and why. Posted online by Leslie Orr

7.5) Happy & Sad Behaviors

Split the group into two teams. Send one group outside the classroom (group 1).

PART 1: Tell the group inside that classroom (Group 2) that, when group 1 returns, they will share happy experiences with them. Instruct them not listen – no eye contact, turn away to talk with someone else, check cell phones, ask irrelevant questions, etc.

Next, instruct the Group 1 participants to think of a happy incident in their life. Tell them to share it with anyone in Group 2, when they return to the classroom.

When Group 2 returns, give them about 5 minutes to interact.

PART 2: Ask Group 1 to step outside the room. Tell the Group 2 (now inside the room) to practice active listening when Group 1 participants return and share a sad experience with them. Encourage them to use eye contact, body posture, rephrasing, relevant questions, empathy, etc.

Instruct Group 1 to think of a sad incident in their life and share it with anyone whom they are comfortable with inside the classroom. They can choose a different partner.

When Group 1 returns, give them about 5 minutes to interact.

DEBRIEF: Divide the whiteboard into two. On the left side, write Group 2; on the right, write Group 1.

Ask Group 2, if they felt their partners listened to them. When they say “NO”, ask them how they found out that their partners did not listen to them. List responses under the Group 2 heading.

Ask Group 1, if they felt heard. When they say “YES” ask them how they found out that their partners listened to them. List the responses under Group 1.

Finally, explore real world, work place situations when colleagues might not listen actively and discuss its impact.   ~Posted by Sridhar R

7.6) Question challenges

I use ‘creative thinking’ questions to stimulate listening. Here are a few that I use (answers in brackets!)

  • Carl Wins:  Carl wins race after race, he is the fastest runner, yet he gets no trophy, why?   {Carl is a horse.}
  • Camp Fire:  You are hiking with a friend in the deep woods of Canada. A cold front quickly approaches and you find cover behind a sheltered boulder. You must light a fire to survive the storm. In your pack, you have one match, a candle, a tightly wound ball of birch bark and a roll of toilet paper. Which would you light first?   {The Match}
  • Good Guess?: There is a man who guesses the score of every football game before Kick-off. How can he do this?  {Before the game starts the score is always 0-0}
  • Digging Dirt:  How much dirt is in a round hole that is 7 feet deep with a diameter of 4.5 feet?  {None at all. The hole is made by digging dirt out, so… the hole is empty.}
  • Crazy Cat:  A cat jumped out the window of a 30 story apartment building and lived. How?  {He jumped out the ground floor window.}
  • Frequent Occurrence:  It occurs once in a minute and once in an hour, but never in a second. What is it?  {The letter U.}
  • One-Way Street:  A girl who was just learning to drive went down a one-way street in the wrong direction, but didn’t break the law. How come?  {She was walking.}
  • Saw Purchase:  A deaf person decides he wants to build some shelves. He heads down to the hardware store to buy a saw. How does he let the merchant know he wants to buy a saw?   {He says, “Hello, I’d like to buy a saw please.”}

Posted by Mark Crawford

7.7) Situational Awareness AND Active Listening

Listening with “situational awareness” is critical in our field, in which emergency services call-takers and dispatchers must both “actively listen” to their call as well as “scan” the other call-takers so as to be aware of other incidents occurring. This is an extremely difficult field and the number of people who can both actively listen and still maintain a situation awareness is very small. When I train I want to incorporate as many exercises as possible to help them learn this challenging skill.

I have had great success with this “situational awareness listening technique.” Pass out topics and pair the class up. Then, have them discuss their topic between themselves for 2 minutes. After the 2 minutes are up I ask them what each of their neighbors were talking about – NOT what they discussed. Most of the time they can’t give me any information at all. We then repeat the exercise with different topics but this time they are more able to give me feedback on what groups around them were discussing. This has been valuable for teaching to listen not only to what is being said to the individual but also what is being said “around” a situation.  Posted by Julie Worthing

7.8) Difficult Customer Role Play

Have participants pair up with a partner for a role play. One person can be the difficult customer and the other the customer service rep, then they can switch roles. The best way to diffuse a tense situation is to use active listening – let the customer know you hear what they are saying. But its important not to make any promises at that stage of the exchange because that costs money. But acknowledge the customer’s frustration and let them vent. Then move on to problem-solving – get the customer to help in solving the problem and then work on solving it together. Posted by Tom Lord

7.9) Not Listening or A-B-C Listening

Divide your group into pairs. For Round 1, give partner 1 the “NL Instruction sheet” (described below), then ask partner 2 to tell their mate what they think is most important about communicating and an example of a time when they felt they were not communicating well with someone else. Stop the group after a minute or two.

For Round 2, give partner 2 the “ABC Instruction sheet,” and ask partner 1 to share their communication story. After a minute, ask everyone to share how they felt and why. Stop the group after a minute or two.

The NL Instruction Sheet says: “Do not allow your partner to read this sheet!” Your job is to NOT LISTEN while your partner is talking. You may do this in any way you like, as long as you stay in your seat. You may occasionally say something, but it need not relate to whatever your partner has been saying. Although your partner may realize you are not being attentive, do not tell him or her that you are deliberately not listening.

The ABC Sheet Instruction sheet says: Do not allow your partner to read this sheet! As your partner is talking, keep track of the number of words he or she uses that begin with “a,” “b,” and “c.” Do not count the words “a,” “an,” or “and.” Do not tell your partner what you are doing. You can take part in the conversation, but be sure to keep an accurate score while your partner is talking.

Debrief:  After each group has experienced non-listening behaviors, what happened and how it relates to listening and getting your message across. Posted online by Todd Wilmore

7.10) Red Ball, Blue Ball

In this listening and communication exercise, speed is not the point. The goal is to make sure your message is heard, not just spoken.

To begin, everyone stands in a circle. The facilitator mimes holding a ball, which they pass to someone else in the circle while making eye contact and saying “Red ball.”

The recipient then repeats, “Red ball” as they take it. They toss the imaginary ball to someone else, saying “Red ball” and making eye contact as they do. That person repeats “Red ball” as they receive it, and so on.

This continues until everyone in the circle has had the ball a couple of times. The Director then gives someone a mimed bowl, saying “Red bowl.” That person repeats “Red bowl,” and passes it on to someone else.
Once the red bowl and red ball have gone around the circle, the Director can add another object — a bread bowl, a Red Bull (miming a can), a red shawl,
a lemon meringue pie, blue ball, green ball etc.

When all the items are in play, the facilitator stops everyone and asks who has each item by a show of hands. in debriefing the exercise, you might ask: If we were to do it again, what behaviours would improve communication?  What behaviours displayed decreased communication? What lessons might we carry forward into our work?  Posted online by Daniel B.

7.11) matrix games

To conduct this experience, you need a special deck of cards, each of which contains one clue. Without sharing their cards (only the information contained on the card), your group should be able to solve the complex puzzle. The true learning, of course, comes when they discuss the techniques that helped or hindered their process. One such puzzle is contained in the Teamwork & Teamplay Deck

7.12) Workstations

The Workstations puzzle uses a matrix of information and requires teams to use a process of elimination to find the answer to a set of questions. With one “fact” on each card in the deck, key information needed to solve the puzzle is divided up between members of a working team. Team members are not allowed to draw or write anything, so they are dependent upon gathering and collating verbal information in order to solve the puzzle.

7.13 ) Zin Obelisk Game

The Zin Obelisk Game is readily available online. It’s like the card deck games described above, but requires the facilitator to print and distribute the fact statements on their own. The game is structured so no one person has all the information necessary to solve the puzzle. Th e members of the team must listen to, and respect, each other – and since the puzzle is difficult and the time to complete it is short, team members tempers may fray. Complete game content and facilitation notes are available online for free.

TeamWriter by Trainers Warehouse

TeamWriter by Trainers Warehouse   $42.95 BUY NOW

8. Coordinating Many People

These games were not suggested in LinkedIN posts, but are available from Trainers Warehouse.  More information on these games can be found in this post on How to Select a Team Building Game.

8.1  Helium Stick – try to lower the pole and see it rise up instead
8.2  Pipelines – send a marble down the pipeline without dropping it
8.3  Colourblind – figure out the missing shape
8.4  Pass the Chicken – deal with increasing complexities
8.5  River Crossing – rely on others instructions if you can’t see your way
8.6  Toxic Waste – coordinate players to move basket suspended by  ropes
8.7  Simbols – plan a complex diagram and recreate it under tight timeframe
8.8  Electric Maze – find your way through a maze without setting off a bomb
8.9  Marshmallow Challenge – build a tall structure out of spaghetti and tape
8.10  TeamWriter – coordinate multiple people to write something with a shared pen

9) Communicating Between Teams

9.1  Seeing the Point – forming 5 similar shapes requires out-of-the-box thinking
9.2  Communication Derailed – negotiation for parts to build the perfect structure
9.3  Minefi­eld –  maximize a given budget by spending as little as possible and gaining a large bonus for completing their task objective.
9.4 . Chainlink – for customer-supplier relationships

Read more:

Active Listening Exercises – Humongous database of games, activities, and videos! FOR 30% DISCOUNT, use PROMOT CODE:  TWDISCOUNT

LAST UPDATED:  12/4/2023

28 thoughts on “Communication & Listening Exercises”

  1. Kacy Hall says:

    Compliments for this post, I am glad I noticed this website on yahoo.

  2. Somya Sharma says:

    I loved the questions answers that this post had…really fun.. will try it for sure. thank you 🙂

  3. Hannah says:

    Love these ideas. Leading a communication group with kids and can’t wait to try a few of these! 🙂

  4. Amit says:

    Hello Susan,

    Can you share some activities for customer service program, specially to make them understand the importance of customer’s and customer complaint handling.

    You may mail at [email protected].

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Susan Landay says:

      Sorry I only just saw your comment now. I’ll see what I can come up with! One item that comes to mind right away is the Customer Service Thumball available at Trainers Warehouse. Other possible resources include the Big Book of Customer Service Games and a couple of the Simple Truths motivational videos that deal with Customer Service. After that, I’d like to do a search of some LinkedIn discussions to see what we might come up with.

      Best, Sue

  5. Gabi says:

    Excellent suggestions. Very creative! Thank you very much!

  6. Excellent Suggestions with alot of activities that could be adapted for virtual teams.

  7. cheryl says:

    can i reprint this to do with a few residents. I work at a shelter and we do workshops thanks cheryl

  8. cheryl patel says:

    hi i need to conduct a 30 min session with teenagers tomorrow on communication with leadership in mind..any idea

  9. mike says:

    I hope you can help me. I attended a staff meeting with my previous company 8 years ago which included an icebreaker at the beginning. The meeting had a facilitator and the four of us as participants. This was an exercise for communication in which the facilitator gave each of us a memo containing instruction for an upcoming even. Each memo had more information than the previous and each participant would describe how we would manage it. By the time the facilitator read the real memo we all sat there and said “where did all that come from”. I’ve been searching icebreakers for two days and cannot find it. I am having my own staff meeting and would desperately like to use the exercise. Have you heard of this exercise of something similar?

  10. Thomas says:

    Excellent compilation of activities, I teach Interpersonal Communication and will use these for sure!

  11. Beth says:

    Thanks for this posting! It is still going strong! I would like to request a new title be made for the “Chinese Whisper” – actually a variant of “Telephone.” The abrasiveness of the title – based in old judgments of people speaking languages other than English – can interfere with the effectiveness of the activity. Thanks for reading~

    1. Ghulam mustafa says:


  12. Usman says:

    Great ideas….
    Loved it…

  13. Tracey Brantley says:

    Could you give an example that works well for the 2-sentence script in your variation of the Chinese Whisper game?

  14. S. N. Prasad says:

    Questions Challenges by Mark Crawford is an excellent activity to help participants understand active listening and reinforce the learning. After the questions are asked tell the participants that you will be asking 2 more questions. Take a long pause, act as though you are preparing the questions. You will find most participants eagerly leaning towards you and waiting for the questions.

    After a deliberate long pause tell them that there are no more questions to be asked, but during the pause they were all in an active listening mode. Do not debrief immediately. Let the participants think and reflect on their experience.

    Debrief after 2 – 3 minutes using all the active listening parameters like suspended judgment, focus on the speaker, leaning forward, the silence which prevailed during the pause etc.

  15. Caroline Smith says:

    Thank you for your wonderful suggestions. We will consider them and surely they will help. For good communication skills, communication exercises are really important.

    listening skills exercise

  16. Steven J.J. says:

    Nowadays problem of lack communication, not mentioning its quality has risen dramatically. In freelance, home office, facebook, twitter era, people have few oppotrunitues to communicate properly. I am very thankful to you for this post. Implementing such exercises will help avoid misconceptions and understand each other better. Moreover it will increase productivity of work what we have discovered while I was working with After introductioning some technique of advanced communication, we have discovered that effectivety of work has risen and employees`s level of stress dicreased. And all that because of discovering another level of communication.

  17. Julius Ernst says:

    very good submit, i actually love this web site, keep on it

  18. Shruti Sharma says:

    Keep up with this appreciable and informative piece of content here. I am sure that this might benefit a greater part of learners looking for professional classes. Continue updating.

  19. Dewitt Kuja says:

    Do you mind if I quote a few of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your website? My blog is in the exact same area of interest as yours and my users would truly benefit from a lot of the information you present here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks a lot!

    1. Susan Landay says:

      Happy for you to quote (and give credits/citations), but not lift entire articles. Hope that will work for you. Please send me the links so I can have a look!

  20. Pmang Loyal says:


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