Talent Development 5 Role Play

July 28, 2020

One of the capability areas in the ATD CPTD certification model is “Instructional Design.” I get a lot of mileage out of doing role plays with groups, whether the training is in person or virtual.

I find that the ability to work on a problem situation with another person in an unscripted format is a great mental break, so I insert several of these into my courses. People really love them and have a great time doing the role plays.

Here is an example of a brief video I shot in Jamaica when I was doing some leadership training for a group of talent development professionals a few years ago. Notice how the participants are having a rollicking good time while learning a significant point about trust.

The trick in designing role plays is to have a twist in the scene that is known by only one of the people involved and that the person is sworn to not divulge. The other person knows there is an elephant in the room, but that is not being shared for some unknown reason.

In this particular role play I pair up someone playing a middle manager with a quality group leader reporting to that manager. Each person gets a write up of roughly 200 words that explains the situation.

In this case, the manager has just promoted a different group leader to the manager level. The person promoted is inferior to the group leader who was passed over, but she is very attractive. The passed-over group leader is furious and wants to pin down the manager for playing favorites.

What she does not know is that the manager was instructed to promote the other person by the CEO and instructed to not divulge this to the disgruntled group leader who was passed over.

What follows is an exercise in what to say when your actions made no sense, but you must defend it on instructions from your boss. Of course, the debrief reveals that the real problem is that the CEO is the one who is playing favorites but he wants his role in the selection to remain hidden. That underscores a problem of integrity and accountability, which destroys trust.

Role plays seem to work to break up the instructional pattern, so people remain fresh for the major part of the content. I also use body sculptures, stories, magic illusions, physical demonstrations, and visual aids to add more spice.

Another technique is to post a photograph or cartoon and ask each individual to write a funny caption. Then they can read their captions to each other.

My rule of thumb, whether in person or virtual, is to not have more than about 15 minutes of content without giving the group a mental break of some kind. This makes the time fly by and keeps the group fresh, because they never know what is coming up next.

One precaution is that there needs to be a significant learning or point in each activity. The activity matters to the entire learning experience. Even though it is fun, it is not just for fun. During the debrief, you point out the main lesson and discuss the significance. For the participants, this allows experiential learning to occur in an atmosphere that is fun and lively.


The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Talent Development 3 Reduce Conflict

July 10, 2020

One of the skill areas listed in the Detailed Content Outline for the Certified Professional in Talent Development CPTD by ATD is “knowledge of conflict management techniques.”

Several years ago, I created a list of twelve tips to reduce conflict. I present these as a discussion starter. What techniques would you add to my list?

Reverse Roles

When people take opposing sides in an argument, they become blind to the alternate way of thinking. This polarization causes people to become intransigent, and the rancor escalates. A simple fix is to get each party to verbalize the points being made by the other person. To accomplish this, each person must truly understand the other person’s perspective, which is why the technique is effective.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Most of the things that drive you crazy about a co-worker are things that you won’t remember by the end of the day or certainly not later in the week. Recognize that the things annoying you about another person are really insignificant when considering the bigger picture and the numerous things both of you have in common.

Live and Let Live

The other person’s personal habits are just the way he or she is built. Don’t fixate on trying to change the person to conform to what you think should happen. Focus your attention on the things you like to do.

Take a Vacation

When pressure builds up, just take a brief vacation in your mind. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and visualize a happier place and time. You can take a vicarious trip to the beach anytime you wish. One trick with this technique is to get as many senses involved as possible; feel the warm air on your cheek, taste the salt water on your lips, hear the gentle lapping of the waves, smell the seaweed by your feet, touch the warm sand on which you are sitting, see the beautiful sunset over the water.

Be Nice

Kindness begets kindness. Share a treat, say something soothing, compliment the other person, do something helpful. These things make it more difficult for the ill feelings to spread.

Extend Trust

Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” We’ll forgive the flawed grammar, since Ernest is already in the grave, and also since his meaning is powerfully true. Trust is bilateral, and you can usually increase trust by extending more of it to others. I call this “The First Law of Trust.”

Don’t Talk Behind their Back

When you spread gossip about people, a little of it eventually leaks back to them, and it will destroy the relationship. If there is an issue, handle it directly, just as you would have that person do with you.

Don’t Regress to Childish Behavior

It is easy for adults in the work setting to act like children. You can witness it every day. Get off the playground, and remember to act like an adult. Work is not a place to have tantrums, sulk, pout, have a food fight, undermine, or any number of common tactics used by people who are short on coping mechanisms because of their immaturity.

Care About the Person

It is hard to be upset with someone you really care about. Recognize that the load other people carry is equal or heavier than your own. Show empathy and try to help them in every way possible. This mindset is the route to real gratitude.

Listen More Than You Speak

When you are talking or otherwise expounding, it is impossible to be sensitive to the feelings of the other person. Take the time to listen to the other person. Practice reflective listening and keep the ratio of talking to listening well below 50%.

Create Your Development Plan

Most individuals have a long list of what other people need to do to shape up but a rather short list of the things they need to improve upon. Make sure you identify the things in your own behavior that need to change, and you will take the focus off the shortcomings of others.

Follow the Golden Rule

The famous Golden Rule will cure most strife in any organization. We tend to forget to apply it to our everyday battles at work.

If we would all follow these 12 simple rules, there would be a lot less conflict in the work place. It takes some effort, but it is really worth it because we spend so much time working with other people.

Following these rules also means leading by example. If just a few people in an organization model these ideas, other people will see the impact and start to abide by them as well. That initiative can form a trend that will change an entire culture in a short period of time.


The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.