>Role Play? No thanks

>This week’s inaugural Q&A post was on the topic of role plays within training. The question I posed was this: “Often in training it’s necessary to practise the skills you are learning. But, is role play the best way to achieve this?”

There’s been some excellent comments from the following people: Rob Green, Wendy Jacob, Matthew Warrener, Sarah Durbridge, TheHRD, Doug Shaw and Mr AirMiles. Here’s a precis of their comments:

Rob talked about it being difficult to get into character for a role play as he’s not facing the person he’s likely to come across. Once he tries though, feedback can be useful.

Wendy was clear in stating “There is no realism in acting out a semi-scripted conversation” and “You can’t plan for every response and scenario and, while I see some merit in discussing on a practical level how a new skill might be used, I’ve yet to experience a role play which hasn’t been a painful experience for everybody.

Matthew made an excellent point when he said “…customers DO NOT HAVE SCRIPTS! We can discuss and debate customer/event scenarios but lets leave role playing to the cast of Fame!“. I couldn’t agree more!

Sarah thought about it from the trainer’s point of view too and talked about role play feeling unreal and embarrassing for the participants.

TheHRD made an interesting observation when he said “I’ve found that in our culture people like to use it…not because they find it real but because they find it helps to practice“.

Doug made a nice quip and said “I have scriptophobia, a fear of role play.

And Mr Airmiles provided a great comment, “There are other ways to practice and apply classroom learning – Micky Mouse Land role plays aren’t one of them…“.

There’s plenty in the comments you can read and learn from, and I’m grateful for the contributions. I have to add my tuppence though. For me, you just need to consider the purpose of using role play at all. If it’s a service based offering you have, create a duplicate environment, a simulation of sorts, where the person can not only practise what they’ve been taught, but become conscious of the environment they’re in, the people they have to interact with, and apply themselves naturally.

If it’s to practise a learned behavioural skill such as Assertiveness, or Feedback, this is much harder to control for in a training environment as the situations you create will never be true to life. You can’t account for emotions, reactions, beliefs, culture, that a person holds within them. In these places I’ve always found it more useful to encourage planning of conversations and discuss those as the preparation can raise awareness, you then have to trust they’ll actually ‘do’ it when they go back to work.

In the main, I don’t believe role plays have a place in training any more. There are better and more effective ways at embedding learning – skills practice, simulations, video feedback, are all  If you do choose to use them, just be very clear about the objective. They’ll work fine as thought starters, but won’t help to truly practise skills.

Thanks to all above for contributing this week.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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