Sunday, September 14, 2008

Role Play - Friend or Foe?

In our ‘Trust Me I’m a Patient’ workshops over the last 3 years we have noticed the ‘fear’ that exists among participants about taking part in role play.

We have delivered this workshop 48 times involving close to 1600 people who work in the National Health Service.

The workshop is about changes to local healthcare services and how NHS managers and clinicians might improve the way they involve local patients and the public in those changes. In a nutshell we re-create a real life scenario and get the folks at the workshop to play a small part as a character in a public meeting to discuss the changes.

People often tell us after the workshop is over that they were terrified of the idea of role play. The good news is that most people feel ok afterwards because we make sure no one is put under pressure to take part. Most of the delegates we have spoken to, and certainly from our written evaluation forms completed by participants after each event, are pleased to have taken part and tell us that using drama is a useful training method.

There is no doubt taking part in role play is out of the comfort zone for many people but as long as it is handled with sensitivity I think the benefits are great.

I often say at the beginning of these workshops that to be outside our comfort zone means we are probably learning and my feeling is that the main outcome of any workshop should be …. To learn …. Or is that logic too simple … even for me?

We are just coming to the end of a series of 25 ‘Trust Me I’m a Patient’ workshops for one National Health Service client. We have delivered the 25 workshops over the last five months and we have had overwhelmingly good feedback so it seems role play is one of the many things in life that sounds worse than the reality.

I would love your opinions about the use of role play in training and your experiences of it.


David Wike said...

I’ve just been in discussion with a couple of people about participation (lack of), albeit in a slightly different context from yours. My comment was, “Although school days are but a hazy memory now, I seem to recall that there were those who frequently put their hands up to ask or answer questions and then there were the rest of us who sat quietly at the back. I’m not sure that people change that much when they grow up, so it isn’t entirely surprising that people don’t ask questions, ‘stupid’ or otherwise.

So am I surprised that people are reluctant to take part in role-play? NO! Would I want to take part in role-play? Absolutely not. Ask me to make a presentation or give a speech and I’m your man, but if I turned up at a training day and discovered role play was involved, I’d be right at the back of the room, or preferably out of it. If I knew in advance, I wouldn’t attend unless compelled so to do.

Give me facts and figures, give me information, tell me stories to illustrate a point, and then I will reach my own conclusions, but do not ask me to act. Maybe it is relevant that I am not a fan of the theatre … although I do like opera. But no, I wouldn’t sing for you!

Trevor Gay said...

David – disappointed you won’t sing for me!

Your comments are similar to those of some of the folks who attend our workshops. Once they have been through the workshop I can honestly tell you that well over half of those folks tell us it was not nearly as bad as they imagined. Of course we totally respect the wishes of those who don’t want to get involved and it is not essential that we have 100% involvement in the role play part of the workshop. The second half of the workshop is not role play but small group discussions and in that setting most people are comfortable. I do maintain learning means sometimes being outside our comfort zone and a little acting never did anyone any harm … After all Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister because she ‘acted’ as if she cared for people.

Mike Gardner said...

Trevor, I agree with your observations regarding role playing. I went through the Dale Carnegie Course about four years ago. I remember the first session--I was just getting comfortably settled in my seat, sort of "zoning" out and acting like an inert sponge when the instructor started frantically waving his arms, running around the room, and shouting. He got our attention! He then asked us if we were still comfortable, which we answered we were not. That was his point. He took us out of our comfort zones immediately and never let us get back in them for sixteen weeks! We had to relate personal experiences to a group of strangers, role play many different times, give speeches on random topics with no preparation, whap rolled up newspapers on table tops while shouting at the top of our lungs about things that frustrated us, and many other "uncomfortable" actions. That was one of the best learning experiences of my life.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks for that Mike - a brilliant story .... I rest my case :-)

We don't run around the room and we try to help people feel ok about being outside their comfort zone.

Anonymous said... my experience the role play is as effective the facilitator presenting it. How well is it set up? How applicable is it to the learning objectives of the course/lesson? Is it "de-briefed" using examples from the actual roles play itself? Failure to show the folks the W.I.I.F.M., why it's value added, or get them engaged is why don't work...that's my job. Training/facilitation is much much more than just saying the words.

The techniques to "nudge" folks into activities are many and varied. It seems as if you take great pains to remove "fear" by setting expectations. The more they know about the the what's, why's. etc...the easier to get them engaged.

I would really enjoy seeing the acting and drama element you incorporate in your seminars. It's a terrific approach and one I've not really heard being used by many others. When I was certifying to teach escape and evasion skills, part of our training involved being POW for 36-48 hours. I knew I was actually somewhere on an Air Force in Washington state...for about the first 10-15 minutes of the excercise. But it was so realistic...the guards and interagators in costume and charecter, the cells we were held in, the msic..always blaring and annoying...the sleep deprevation, difficult to describe the realism but the learning experience was exceptional.

Trevor Gay said...

Dave - I’m sure you are right about good facilitation and allowing people to feel ok. When we start this workshop Annie and I perform a piece of drama with me acting as an interviewer and interviewing three characters – all of whom are Annie. There is humour and seriousness in that. Feedback consistently tells us this acts as a good ‘warm up’ and helps people feel relaxed and ok about ‘being silly’

Your role playing exercises in the military sound terrific and very realistic. I am sure it has helped you in your leadership role because I know from our exchanges how seriously you take the need to keep your staff involved and engaged. Do you use role play in your training sessions nowadays?

Anonymous said...

I've been involved in a couple of role play sessions and I'm not convinced. As Dave says, it does depend on the facilitator but there's other factors.

It also depends on how much the participants really want to join in and whether the sceptics are quiet or disruptive, e.g. whingeing or teasing those who take it seriously.

If it's a large group and they're tackling the same subject, the people who go 3rd get to see all the mistakes in presentations 1 & 2 so they can correct their own on the hoof and give the answer teacher wants to hear.

I realise there are times when you have to get something across to a large number of people at one go but personally I'd prefer some focused one-on-one time.

Anonymous said...

Yes sir...Customer Service New Hire Training, out of necessity, requires some play the customer and someone else the rep. This enables folks to get used to the mouth moving to interact with the customer while the hand navigates the tools to find the information that is used to assist the customer. We tend to vary a great deal as trainers in how we do it. While I do split the class in half the reps are in one room. Rather than have them talk to each other I get folks from the floor to call them while their teammates listen and "score" the calls. The customers play the different customer types...irate, insistent, indecisive, comfortable etc. They do the "de-brief" after the role plays and coach and develop their teammates. They get to develop presentation and managerial skills they will use later in their careers. know what the expectations are "quality" wise before they start being scored themselves. Questions and repetiton are how they learn this craft. The more their screens move during training the more confident they become. Knowledge they don't's a lack of confidence that makes them struggle for the first week or two after New Hire.

What you and Annie do however is real role playing...The term escapes me but it has to do with suspending belief or similar. Your not in the're in that townhall meeting. Taking skills to get to that level and I can see it being a terrific learning experience.

A question please... What led you to see the value in this approach and what skills were the biggest challenge to perfect in preparing for presentation?

Trevor Gay said...

Mark – you are right – every person is different and not everyone likes role play. We all have preferred learning styles. Some like traditional teaching from the front – talk and chalk; others like small group work; some like large group discussion; and some like one to one tuition. I never suggest role play is the best method – just one of many. One thing I do love to see however is a Chief Executive in the NHS prepared to play around and enjoy him/herself as well as valuing this methodology as a valued learning method. In some of our 48 workshops over the last three couple of years we have seen some very senior managers and doctors really get engrossed in their role and it is wonderful to see.

Trevor Gay said...

Dave – I am sure you are right about lack of confidence rather than the lack of skills and it sounds like you are using role-play very effectively.

We re-create a large town hall meeting and allocate randomly a role to each participant and they have the choice whether or not to ‘play.’ Although that sounds risky given that many people say they don’t like role play our experience is that there are always enough people to get involved and make it work as a workshop. We have a plan B in case we ever have a workshop where there is total silence – though I don’t envisage ever having to use Plan B.

What led us to use this model?

I guess it was because we have complementary skills and experience in drama, training and facilitation. We saw an opportunity to develop such a workshop and just went for it. There did not appear to be anything similar around so we saw the chance to create a unique product. And we love doing it. We did one workshop as a trial and 47 workshops and 1600 people later it sees like that trial must have worked. We’ve developed and tweaked the content as we’ve gone along in the light of feedback and introduced new elements.

The biggest challenge?

I guess the biggest challenge is to try and reassure people that role play does not mean making a fool of anyone; not embarrassing anyone and convincing people it is possible to have fun and learn at the same time. Because of the culture of most businesses and certainly the NHS it is often frowned upon if you use words like fun. I often say at the workshops ‘It really is not compulsory to be miserable at work’ and that usually goes down well. Once people get relaxed it is amazing to see just how much acting talent there is ‘out there’!

Steve Felix said...

very interesting comments folks. i don't have as much experience with role play as some of you but i have used it, or tried to use it, in training sessions. basically i ask people to put themselves in the other party's shoes. while many people are reluctant, all you need is one or two to get the ball rolling. otherwise, when you ask for volunteers and no one raises their hand, you just point to someone and say, 'you there, thanks for volunteering.' all people need is a push sometimes.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Steve - quite often in my life in life the fear of doing something is worse than the actual doing ..

Anonymous said...

Dave --

"What you and Annie do however is real role playing...The term escapes me but it has to do with suspending belief or similar."

That would be the "suspension of disbelief" - usually experienced from the audience side, when entering a theater to see a stage production - and especially when the house lights go down and the curtain goes up. The artificiality of the circumstances recedes and what is being viewed on stage becomes a reality (for a couple of hours, at least)!

From the actor's side, the counterpart phenomenon is often referred to as "the fourth wall" - i.e., an imaginary wall at the front of the stage, or between the cast and the audience - not in the sense of separating the two, but freeing up the actor to "live" in the character and the action in a natural way, as in real life, rather than on display, and without the distraction of onlookers and critics!

Correct me if I'm wrong, Annie!

-- Dick
Erstwhile stage actor

Anonymous said...

Mr. Field...thank you sir for the clarification and the explanation. There are "role plays" and then there are "REAL ROLE PLAYS" ...the skill and talent of the facilitator(s) being the differentiator.

Trevor...innovative (check), cutting edge(check), dare to be different (check)...that would be Annie and and Annie.

One of the most valuable leadership lessons I learned can be found in the essense of this discussion. The secret to involving and engaging folks in the classroom is done by removing "fear". Making folks comfortable, demonstrating by our actions it's ok to have fun, participate, express your mind or point of view in an environment that both challenges and supports them. You can use these same skills and techniques to involve and engage folks in the work center or on your teams with the same outstanding results. As trainers we know t works because we see it. Why don't most managers? I got no clue...

Trevor Gay said...

Dick - I'm sure you are right about the "suspension of disbelief" and "the fourth wall" I love those expressions and had not come across them myself. Annie will respond I'm sure when she has chance.

Dave - what seems to have happened is that we have hit upon something that works for us - given our complementary skills and experience and it seems to work too for the customer. I’m also with you Dave - why the heck don’t we use these techniques more in the every day real world of management than just in the training classroom?

Marilyn Jess said...


A few comments.....wonderful discussion.Since I am also a workshop speaker I feel strongly that the audience know ahead of time that they will be doing WORK.It is not my talking head imparting wisdom, it is them sharing and learning.

My promotional blurbs all say what they'll be doing and what they will leave the workshop with, that they didn't have, feel, or know before. I write those blurbs.

In your case, it's about learning more about what works in communication with patients. Role play is just one method. If these folks could actually hear what real patients say about their illnesses and the care they perceive (key word) they get, nothing compares to that, in my humble opinion.

Do you post somewhere on the internet what you cover in your workshops? Or did I miss that?

How they respond to role play and their willingness to do it depends on their readiness to be open to feedback, and their confidence level. That's where my workshops come in--I help them get more comfortable speaking with groups :)

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Marilyn

All participants know before our workshops they will be working and it will not be me talking ‘at them.’

Our workshops are advertised on the basis they are inter-active and very participative. Interestingly some clients ask that we don’t mention ‘role play’ specifically as it will put people off!!

I’m with you in that people ought to know what they are going to in any training session.

The reasons people like or dislike role play are many including previous experiences of role play. I have met some people in our workshops who were told in previous training sessions they had no choice but take part - their managers told them they would have to do it!! As far as I am concerned that is bad management and reminds of the wall sign ‘If moral doesn’t improve in this place the sackings will continue’

I hope things are going well in your new independent career!

In answer to your question about whether the workshops are on the internet you can read about them on my Simplicity website by clicking here

J.KANNAN said...

“Role Play” according to me is a friend and never a Foe. To make it more effective, useful and participant friendly, lies in the hands and mind of the instructor/facilitator.

People who had undergone Dale Carnegie principles of training (I being one such undergone the training way back in 1984) will certainly value and cherish the importance of “Role Play” and accept the principles, of “Role Play” in Toto. The extensive training programme spread over for a period of 14 weeks imparts importance to “Role Play” with excellent exposure and benefits. “Role Play” will enable one to enter comfort zone and retain it with active and earnest participation and interaction-This is my personal impression on “Role Play”.

My dear Trevor you are doing an excellent and splendid job by conducting “Trust me I am a patient” work shops for over three years and hope you will continue with this mission to benefit more and more people.


Trevor Gay said...

Thank you again J.K – good to hear of your support for role play.

We love doing the role playing workshops and we are going to meet a team of people tomorrow to discuss the evaluation of the last 23 workshops we have done for one client.

Annie and I have decided to summarise our evaluation in a light hearted way by producing the Ten Commandments for Trust Me I’m a Patient workshops as follows – I hope you enjoy reading them! – They are of course somewhat tongue in cheek but also put over our main observations as well. The 23 workshops have had over 500 participants.

Trust Me I’m a Patient

Trevor and Annie’s 10 Commandments

1. Thou shalt have someone from the PPI Team at every workshop
2. Thou shalt accept that role play does not suit everyone
3. Thou shalt tip off GP’s before the event
4. Thou shalt emphasise that learning and having fun are compatible
5. Thou shalt make sure that participants know what they are coming to
6. Thou shalt make sure that there are small group and large group sessions
7. Thou shalt introduce everyone at the outset
8. Thou shalt reassure participants that role play is not compulsory
9. Thou shalt never be surprised by feedback
10. Thou shalt enjoy it – even if through gritted teeth!!!

J.KANNAN said...

Dear Trevor,

An excellent joint effort of you and Annie, the creation of Ten Commandments. For “Trust me I am a Patient”.

The historical context of 10 Commandments provides a very important foundation for the purpose of Ten Commandments. These commandments are more than 10 golden good rules of Divine. They are said to be a written version of a verbal covenant that had been made by God years ago with a Man. They were also known as Tables of Testimony of the God to the world. The Ten Commandments are also considered to be a set of obligations and responsibilities, for the people to obey in order to establish their faith and devotion to God.

Trevor, similar is the joint act by you and Annie in brining to the world of “Trust me I am a patient” these Ten Commandments. They are indeed great, wonderful, acceptablel and useful, creatively crafted with wisdom and deeper insight and thought. Result of a great idea conceived by you both and will benefit all connected, affiliated and related to “Trust Me I am a Patient.”

I wish all the best and good luck to you and Annie, in all your endeavors for “Trust Me-I am a Patient”.


Trevor Gay said...

Thanks JK - of course the original Ten Commandments were a serious law making set of rules provided by our God about how we should live our lives.

Our Trust Me I'm a Patient Commandments are light-hearted but hopefully will act as a guide. We will adapt them in the light of feedback and learning from our workshops.

Thanks again JK for your support to Simplicity Blog.

I spoke with Sriram yesterday. One of my old bosses used to say to me 'good men are few' - Sriram is a fine young man and I recognise from whom he obtains much of his wisdom.

You are right to be very proud of a fine son.