!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Learning from Role Plays

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Learning from Role Plays

Practice, practice, pracice. That's the simple principle behind the use of role plays in training programs that aim to strengthen interpersonal skills (broadly defined to cover everything from sales calls, to having a "difficult conversation" with your spouse).

Since practicing a newly honed skill before using it in an actual situation is so important, it's unfortunate that there's often a bit (or a lot) of groaning when the trainer announces that the next item on the agenda is a role play. To help get people in the mood, make a point of highlighting the role play's value for developing facility in skills crucial for adept real-world performance.

Other pointers for getting as much as possible from role plays:
  • The set-up — The background for the role-play shouldn't be more than a page long (though additional details may be presented in preceding case study material). Avoid distracting or misleading departures from reality, such as caricatures of the characters in the role play. Encourage participants to make reasonable additions to the background details, as needed.

  • Observers — It's important for everyone to have a chance to practice the skills the role play is reinforcing. If time permits, arrange enough rounds of the role play to allow at least one observer for each round. This will invariably add detail to the debrief that will help extract the maximum possible learning from the experience. Provide the observer with a checklist and comment sheet to help keep the focus on the specific skills being addressed.

  • Timeouts — Try to have the time allotted to a role play flexible enough that, if necessary, participants can pause in the middle, come out of character, and discuss something that has them stuck. The participants can then resume (perhaps going back a bit from the point where they paused) and either continue on the previous track, or try some alternate approach that they came up with during the timeout.

  • The debrief — Start by getting comments describing what happened, including how participants were feeling at different points in the role play.

    Then analyze what went well and what not so well. Why did some things work, while others didn't? What variation was there in the experience of different participants? Why the variation, and what is its significance for how we use the skills we're practicing? For instance, do we need to vary our approach according to the behavioral style of the other parties in the interchange?

    Draw conclusions, both general conclusions, and conclusions relating to each participant's own situation and working style.

    Have each participant prepare a workable action plan for how to put the learning from the role play to use. What will the person do more of? do differently? do less of? stop doing entirely?