Nobody Likes Role Playing

by Sharlyn Lauby on April 13, 2010

There.  I said it.  No one wants to participate in role play exercises.  In fact, I think the only people who actually like role plays are old school instructional designers (I try to avoid them when I design) and far too many HR pros.

Sure, people suggest role plays all the time.  But recommending a role play and raising your hand to actually do the role play are two totally different things.  As a training consultant, I have never heard more groans and fidgeting than when I say, “let’s do a little role play activity.”  And the only way to get volunteers is to threaten imply that postponing the activity only results in the session running late.

And, once you get the volunteers, they inevitably mumble and bumble their way through the exercise – always in a hurry to get back to their seat.  Or, they take it totally over-the-top to make it as entertaining as possible.  Either way, the point of the role play is almost always lost to the bumbling or over-acting.  You spend most of the debrief explaining what should have happened, so really…what have you accomplished?

The next time someone asks you about including a role play in your training, simply suggest breaking the group into dyads or triads and having them do the “role play” among themselves.  The trainer can walk around, monitor progress and answer questions.

Or take a typical role play scenario and write it up as a case study for small groups to discuss.  Participants are happy to discuss problems and case studies in small groups.  And they will even select a spokesperson who will report out to the group.  Now, I’m being slightly sarcastic here but participants don’t mind discussions (not too much at least).

But they don’t want to play act in front a group of their peers.  Trust me on  this one.  Declare the role play passé and create some better ways to achieve the same outcome.  Your participants will thank you for it.  And they will still actually learn something along the way.

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