10 Mar Roleplay Resistance?
By Anthony Richards
Here we consider why some learners are resistant to role-play and how this can be overcome in order to capitalise on this powerful form of experiential learning for maximum return on investment.
Role-play sometimes has a bad press. The words alone can be the quickest way to send shivers up the spine – memories, scars even from badly facilitated sessions where you were asked to pretend you were someone you were not. The situation was confusing, the acting dodgy and embarrassment was shared.
Professional role-play actors cut through all this. They are the only ones doing the acting, and no time needs to be spent supporting their egos. The learner and the learning is the focus.
A fun, ‘learning laboratory’
With professional actors doing the acting, learners will always be expected to be themselves and they will be encouraged to develop their authentic presence, gaining personal insight into the consequences of their behaviour and practicing more skill.
It’s important for the actor/trainer combination to invest time in setting up a positive environment for learning, so that they will feel able to leave their comfort zones and stretch to new experiences. The willing suspension of disbelief is crucial, and effort needs to be put into the willing of it. Learning is at its most potent when people feel they are playing, and fostering an atmosphere of serious fun is important. Whilst having the neutral position of the independent trainer/facilitator in the room is good, some professional role-play actors will both act and facilitate the learning in small groups.
Eliciting peer feedback adds to the learning and helping peers give careful developmental feedback to colleagues is also key to observation being accepted and assimilated rather than rejected. Peer feedback in small group work is encouraged as observing good practice can help learners reflect on their own style. After all, these are soft skills and learners learn to develop and refine their approaches rather than to learn formulaic hard recipes for success.
Under pressure to perform, and often if they have performed less well than they expected to, some learners will use the line “I wouldn’t really do this in real life – if I knew the person”. Of course this is true, however all the players of the game know that what we are doing is not real, but simulated, imagined. What role play does most effectively is expose the core behaviours of a learner, because the learner is not able to rely on the habitual relationship they have developed with another colleague, their instinct and authentic presence is all that remains. Learners simply behave as they instinctively would behave in the situation they are in. With this exposed, skills can be celebrated and different behaviours coached. A good role-play experience with an unknown but trusted training team allows fundamentals to be revealed and addressed.
These encounters often provoke, insofar as delegates have the consequences of their behaviours under scrutiny. Crucial to real progress is that the learner feels that the roleplayer is being fair and their purpose is in support of them (the learner).
If all this sounds testing then yes, there is a certain level of jeopardy involved in this work. Training sessions are energised. Roleplay can make learning an exciting thing. It’s often very personal, people are actively involved, and they not only understand, they become passionate about best practice and their learning experience is remembered for a long time.
A good return on investment.