Does role-play even work?

How do you feel when you realise that the course you’ve attended will involve role-play exercises? Do you suddenly get a feeling similar to that of a small lump of cement in the pit of your stomach? And are you then ever so slightly distracted by the thought of what’s to come?

Does anyone actually enjoy role-play? More importantly, does role-play even work, meaning do the participants of role-play actually gain any insights or benefit or are they so pre-occupied trying to remember the details of the scenario and the part they’re trying to play and avoiding feeling like a fool, to actually learn what they’re supposed to be learning?

In our experience, role-play just doesn’t work and we wouldn’t entertain the idea of including it in any of our programmes. We believe we can do better than resorting to role-play in ways which are far more rewarding.

Our IOSH Approved Coaching for safety programme for example, is highly-participative and is packed full of 1:1 conversations including exercises on curiosity, on listening and of course there are coaching-skills sessions too. We contact delegates before the event and ask them to bring real-life subjects, giving them examples of what delegates before them have brought. Consequently, delegates bring issues and problems that they’re having to deal with and would welcome help with – issues that are real and that matter.

For sure, when it comes to the 1:1 conversation in class, the opening “Hello, how are you today …” is a little contrived, but because the topic is real and it matters, the engagement quickly becomes genuine. And not only do delegates practice the coaching skills they are there to learn, but coachees take away ideas for dealing with their issues too.

Someone recently described what we do as ‘real-play’ rather than ‘role play’ and we did toy with using the phrase ourselves before realising that ‘anything-play’ is just inappropriate. Delegates sometimes bring the most extraordinary things. We’ve had everything from extreme family dramas, to heart-warming tales of human kindness and the occasional boys’-own adventure too – more than once we’ve been stopped dead in our tracks by what delegates are discussing in class.

Well let’s face it, “I’d like to find ways of being kinder to my wife” is no less legitimate as a topic for coaching, than any workplace issue you can think of. And if it’s real and it matters then why wouldn’t you want to help, especially if you have the coaching skills to collaborate with that person and support them.

So we say, if you’re thinking of including role-play in your course, try harder, do better.

And in case you’re wondering, we have the more mundane topics too. “I’d like to decide which car to buy next” works.

Share this post:

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


two − 2 =