Many training participants groan at the mention of the word ‘role play’ and it is rarely greeted with great enthusiasm!
For clarity we are talking here about a practical session where 2 or more participants engage in some form of simulated situation, usually built around a scene that is relevant to what they do and the learning objectives of the session.
When to use Role Play
There are several reasons to make use of role play. After new skills have been taught it not only gives participants an opportunity to practice and develop the new skills in a ‘safe’ environment but it also creates an opening to give positive feedback to participants that recognises their strengths and highlights the areas for them to focus on for improvement. It is also a great chance to encourage group learning and share best practice by observing each other and learning from each other’s experiences.
It is possible to use role play before the development of new skills to raise awareness amongst participants of the need for the learning and of the key issues to be addressed. When used this way care needs to be taken to not create a sense of ‘lacking ability’ in the participants, so it is important to think through how it is positioned to them.
How to use it
Here are our tips for best practice for role play:
- Make sure any role play scenes are clearly explained and relate to the participants’ work situation and environment
- Consider how much detail to give them in the briefing, and whether or not it would be helpful to give them room to explore and develop the scenario
- Be clear on timings and expectations; role play is one method that has a lot of scope for misunderstandings
- Brief participants fully on your expectations and make it clear that it needs to be authentic and to avoid any unrealistic reactions
- Recognise that there is real value in participants adopting different roles as it can give them new perspectives
- Feedback is key here, and if it is coming from the rest of the group they need to be clear on how it should be given eg. whether it should be balanced, objective, specific, one thing you liked and one thing you would change, etc
- Consider your role in the exercise. If the objective is for them toincrease their confidence and ability then your role is critical: too much feedback could undermine confidence, but also seeing someone struggle and not getting involved to help them resolve this struggle could be equally detrimental. So be consciously aware of your involvement and what you want it to achieve
- Finally, try to avoid the set piece role pay with two people from the group at the front as it tends to increase nerves and reduce trust.
We have had great success with role play, and if you are clear on what you want it to achieve it can be hugely beneficial in helping your training have more impact.