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Role Play Activities and Tips for Trainers

While many trainers love role-play activities because they can be amazing learning opportunities, participants can find them utterly terrifying. We’ve gathered this bunch of tips to make role-play activities more fun and effective for facilitators and players. In addition, find a range of role-playing suggestions to enhance specific skill development efforts. Tips include:

General Tips for Role-Playing Exercises

  • Exaggerated Role Play
  • 3 Balls
  • Request wrong answers
  • Reward mistakes
  • Swap roles frequently * Freeze Tag
  • Active Observers
  • Start & Stop

Content Areas

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Active Listening
  • Dealing with Difficult Customers
  • Communication
  • Listening
  • Assertiveness

Role-Play Tips

Exaggerated Role Play

Ask each participant to exaggerate the worst experience they’ve had with the topic at hand in any place not necessarily relevant to the work situation. e.g. poor service: what they felt, how they reacted, what impression did it leave? Then walk them back by asking why it didn’t work and what options would work better; why they would and how to apply those solutions to the topic at hand. Zolia Rumble

3 Balls for Stress-Free Experiences

Role-playing can be a little anxiety-producing for the players.  Use balls to make the exercise a bit more fun and less scary. Give the person in the “hot seat” 3 balls. When they get stuck and need a suggestion for what to say (or do) next, invite them to throw a ball to someone for a little help.

Request “Wrong” Answers

So that participants don’t feel put on the spot, or self-conscious if they don’t “perform” well in front of their peers, remind them that it’s a learning activity. Encourage players to demonstrate approaches that they’ve seen or heard from others, or techniques they know are not recommended. These “DON”T” examples will be great for conversation and learning.

Reward mistakes

Embrace the growth mindset and reward participants for taking risks or making mistakes. Share a Token of Appreciation, give a spin of a prize wheel, or distribute small give-aways to those who put themselves on the line.

Swap roles frequently * Freeze Tag

Take a page from improv actors and invite participants in the hot seat to signal for help or a switch whenever they need it. Alternatively, invite observers to say “freeze,” and jump in the place of one of the role players.

Active Observers / Positive Feedback

If you don’t want to conduct concurrent role-plays, that is multiple participants doing a role-play at the same time, be sure to swap players frequently. Feel free to start and stop the action, to draw out learning points. Encourage observers to focus first on what’s working well. If observers have an idea of something that could be done differently, ask them to phrase it by saying, “I’d like to try another approach…” and have them go ahead and try it.

Start and Stop

Stop the action frequently to draw out learning points and talk about what’s working or what might be done differently.

Sample Role Play Activities

Role Play for EQ * Dealing with Impulsive Reactions

One trigger of emotional intelligence issues involved the ability to control impulsive reactions. One LinkedIn writer suggested these easy role-play scenarios, which we’ve embellished a little bit. For these emotional intelligence activities, feel free to use the scenario below or customize one based on your own experiences. First, have participants discuss in groups of 2 or 3, then open the discussion up to the larger group:

  1. Hassan brings a Tomato. Toni bangs on the tomato, getting herself (and Hassan) dirty. How might Toni respond?
  2. Tanisia rides her bike on the wrong side of the street. To avoid a collision, she abruptly stops in front of Roberto’s car. Roberto stops short in front of her, spilling hot coffee and papers all over the car. How might Roberto react?
  3. Carson attends his performance review meeting. His boss brings up a past incident of insubordination that was never previously mentioned or addressed. Still, the boss presents Carson with a formal notice that will go in his personnel file and prevent him from getting a year-end bonus. ~ Santhanam Chakravarti

Explore the differences between speaking when you can or cannot see each other in this is a paired exercise. Run this activity in three rounds:

  1. Webcam OFF – audio only:  For the next 5 minutes, Participiant#1 explains to Participiant#2   “What frustrates them when other people don’t listen to them?” Participant#2 must be silent for the 1st 3 minutes   After that, they can only ask – “Tell me more” or “What Else” Swap roles after 5 minutes  
  2. Webcam ON – audio and video   For the next 5 minutes, Participiant#1 explain to Participiant#2 “What they struggle with when it comes to their listening?”  Participant#2 must be silent for the 1st 3 minutes After that, they can only ask – “Tell me more” or “What Else”   Swap roles after 5 minutes.  
  3. Webcam OFF– Audio Only For the next 5 minutes, Participant#1 debriefs with Participant #2 about how they were listening differently with the webcam on and off. Swap Roles after 5 minutes  

For the next 5 minutes, Participant#2 debriefs with Participant #1 about how they were listening differently with the webcam on and off.  

DEBRIEF: Ask, What were the pros and cons of WebCams On vs. Off.  When did you best understand others? When did speakers feel most heard? Does the number of participants affect the experience?

     ~ Oscar Trimboli

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 it’s 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. ~ Tom Lord

Communication Role Play * 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, and 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

Listening Role Play  *  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

Role Play Tips for Assertiveness Training

  • When I run Assertiveness training I get participants to practice specific techniques such as “broken record”, “saying ‘no’ without making excuses”, “receiving negative feedback with equanimity”, and “making ‘I’ statements (rather than ‘you’ statements), etc. This can be done in pairs, or in 3s with an observer in each group. ~ Posted online by Jon Trevor
  • I use pair role-plays where one is the boss scolding the other for a mistake. The other attempts to respond to the boss using I’m OK – You’re OK language and posture. Start with one pair to allow the group to observe and comment and then ask the pair to redo the role-play. It is always much better! Then everyone pairs up and has a go. ~ Posted online by JoAnne Freeman
  • Start with some scenarios drawn up on posters and posted around the room, such as ‘A stressed colleague tells you she really needs you to stay late to help with an unexpected event. You already have social plans.’ ‘You are making a presentation and an audience member interrupts to ask a question you can’t answer.’ Have participants go and look at them all, discuss them, and then stand by the one they would find hardest to deal with. Then launch into a discussion of how our thoughts and feelings affect our level of assertiveness; how we need to recognize and manage both before we can speak and act assertively. ~Posted online by Sue Duraikan
  • A variation on a live role-play, that may be less threatening, is to do it as a written exchange:  Get people in groups to think of a situation in which they need to be assertive. Have them write out a summary of the scenario, plus their assertive response. Ask groups to pass their scenarios to another group, so they can write out what the other person might say in response. Then, they write another assertive response, which goes back to the other group for a reply and so on. Obviously, you can have lots of these going on at once. You can then read out the conversation and discuss the learning points. Aside from not feeling “put on the spot,” it gives people time to think and discuss positive ways to respond. ~ Posted online by Derek Hughes

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