Role-play is Like Sushi , Part 1

Role-play is like sushi When it's good it's great; when it's bad, it can turn you off for a long time! We've seen a lot of bad, but we know it can be one of the most powerful of developmental tools and we're here to rehabilitate its reputation! Welcome to the first of our series on using role-play productively and painlessly.

Tip 1: Know your learning objective! There are many ways role-play can be used - many types of developmental outcome - from skill-building to mindset shifting to brainstorming and problem-solving. Be clear about which kind of role-play you are running and then really specific about what skills or mindset or problem you are addressing. Let's take a closer look at skill-building role-play:

Assume you are using role-play to build coaching skills. Ask yourself: 

·      What do you want the participant to be able to DO differently? This is NOT the same as the desired outcome within the role-play.  The internal desired outcome is what the characters within the scenario want to achieve. So in this case, the learning objectives may be for the participant to get better at:

o   Empathic listening

o   Asking powerful questions

o   Using the GROW (or some other) coaching model

Those are distinguishable from the desired outcomes within the roleplay which might be for the manager to:

o   Understand their report’s goals and objectives

o   To build a trusting relationship

o   To support the report in generating their own ideas and solutions

o   To help the report identify and commit to an action-plan

·      Have you set up those skills or processes ahead of time so that they are clear and the participant knows what they are practicing? (i.e. have you taught the skills, provided resources, set expectations? Unless your goal is explicitly to make people who think they are good coaches realize they are not, don't set folks up to fail by not teachings skills before you ask folks to demonstrate or practice them.)

·      Have you designed a role-play that provides the right opportunities to exercise those skills appropriately? (e.g. If you have designed a role-play in which a manager is meeting with a report who has been on the job for only a week and has no idea what to do, then pure coaching might not be the right intervention. Make sure your scenario fits the skills you want to practice.

·      Does the role-play provide positive and negative feedback to the participant depending on whether or not they demonstrate the skills you would like them to be practicing? (The “foil” or “sparring partner” is a critical part of an effective role-play. Whether you play this role yourself or have a professional compatriot or fellow participant play the part, the person opposite the role-player must understand the learning objective and respond by “rewarding” or “punishing” behavior as the participant succeeds or fails. At Koppett, we often use professional actor/role-players because they are so good at assuming a character that serves the scene, calibrating their responses based on the participant’s behavior, and articulating their emotional reactions during the debrief.

·      How will you capture the learning? As with any activity, debrief and follow-up action-planning can offer as much opportunity for development as the experience itself. How will your provide coaching? What feedback will you give? How will you set the stage for continued practice and application?