Pose a question in which each person must choose between two difficult, hypothetical propositions, eg would you prefer to be poor in a job you love, or rich in a job you hate?
Each person considers their choice and shares this decision with their partner.
Next, each person predicts the preference of the majority of people in their group, and shares this prediction with their partner.
When ready, ask everyone to stand to one side of a space (or the other) according to their personal choice to determine the majority preference of the group.
Each person who accurately predicts the group’s (majority) preference earns a point.
Repeat this process, asking as many questions as you have time or energy to explore.
How To Play Narrative
If you conduct wisdom or philosophy classes with groups, you’re going to love this exercise. So simple, yet so powerful when introduced to a group at the right time in their development.
First, split your group into pairs. Take a look at Getting Into Pairs for some fun ways to achieve this goal. Small groups of two people work best to provide the right sort of space and permission for high-quality sharing, three at the most (if you must.)
Explain that over the course of several rounds, you will invite each person (individually) to consider which one of two distinct hypothetical, often difficult choices they would make.
For example, you may start with this question: “WOULD YOU PREFER TO BE POOR IN A JOB YOU LOVE OR RICH IN A JOB YOU HATE?” One or the other, this or that.
Sometimes the choice will be clear, while, at other times, neither option is palatable. On these occasions, encourage your group to choose the option they dislike the least. Either way, they must make a choice.
Give everyone a few moments to consider their choice, and then invite them to share their decision – and why – with their partner. This moment is critical because it builds a level of accountability for the next step.
Now, invite each person to consider which choice they believe the majority of the whole group would make. Naturally, it is entirely possible that an individual may choose one option while believing the majority of their colleagues would choose the other. Herein lies the value of this exercise – how well do we really know others?
Again, ask everyone to share a prediction (reflecting the group result) with their partner, and, importantly, why they have made this choice.
Finally, ask for a split – invite each person who chose one proposition (eg be poor) to step to the left of some imaginary line you have identified, while those who chose the other (eg be rich) to step to the right. On most occasions, a majority will have formed for everyone to see.
To be clear, the split reflects the personal choices of each individual, which will produce a majority one way or the other reflecting the group’s preference.
Sometimes, it is enough to observe the split, and then move on to the next question. However, for some added value, award a ‘point’ to each person who accurately predicts the majority preference of the group.
At the end of, say, six to ten rounds, acknowledge those who scored the most number of points.
Here are four more propositions to get you started (you can download dozens more from the Resources tab:)
Would you prefer to…
Go through life without chocolate, or without coffee?
Be a bench player on a winning team or the star player on a losing team?
Lose one of your front teeth, or lose a finger?
Have a complete understanding of one subject or a general understanding of everything?
Play for as many rounds of questions as makes sense for your group.
Given the substance behind many of these propositions, be sure to spend a few minutes at the end of the exercise to invite your group to reflect on what they may have observed or learned during the exercise (see Reflection Tips tab for some useful starting questions.)
Practical Leadership Tips
In case it’s not obvious, there is (often) no right answer. Unless, of course, your whole objective is to explore the ethics of each these difficult choices.
Naturally, the group-split preference works much better if you ask each partnership to not communicate with others in the group before making a decision.
Of course, it depends. Every choice we make as human beings depends on a multitude of factors. When these words are uttered – and believe me, they will at some point – simply ask your group to consider each choice at face value, all things being equal.
In theory, a group that has accurately predicted their collective results more often than not could be argued to have a solid understanding of their ‘corporate’ values, abilities or interests. But, this is not always the case. A lot depends on the sort of questions you ask, and the level of comfort people have about publicly sharing their values.
The team at Paradigm Shift who produce a set of laminated This or That cards to accompany the game.
You could integrate This or That as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand their emotions, thoughts and values and how these influence behaviours in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of being more self-aware.
In a small way, you could argue that this exercise promotes mindfulness to the extent that it involves many opportunities for self-contemplation but this would be considered a minor attribute of the activity. When played in pairs, this activity also promotes a degree of accountability because of what is shared in partner conversations.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which This or That could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Non-Verbal Splits: Pose your question and ask each person to move to that side of the space which reflects their choice. Beware, this set-up may cause some people to be influenced by the decisions of others because there is no accountability built into each round.
Opposing Choices: Take a look at Must Choose, a similar conversation starter which explores the preference for one of two difficult-to-choose, hypothetical propositions.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Ask each person to record their preference(s) on paper and then, when invited, type them into the chat room facility. For small groups, you could do this with each round (question) or wait for 3 to 5 questions before sharing them all at once. Ask each person to scan the entries to identify at least one other person who has recorded the exact same preferences, and/or the exact opposite preferences. These responses are ideally suited for reflection purposes.
For large groups, divide into smaller ‘break-out’ rooms of approx 15 to 20 people before posing your questions.
If possible, randomly divide your group into groups of 2 or 3 people in advance, ie multiple break-out rooms. Pose your question(s) and invite each small group to discuss their preferences with each other before entering their choices into the large group chat room. Sharing first in small groups builds accountability.
If your video conferencing facility permits annotation, divide the primary screen into two (eg Coke on left and Pepsi on right) and ask each person to mark one side or the other to record their preference. This option works best when people have first shared in a small group for accountability purposes, ie some people may be inclined to change their ‘preference’ once they discover their peers are choosing differently. Reflect on the results as necessary.
Use a (free) screen mirroring software (such as Whiteboardfox) to create a blank canvas for each question. Instruct your group to mark an X or their name on the divided sheet you create for each scenario preference.
Pose your scenario and ask people to consider their preference. Then, ask them to consider what they predict the group preference (or majority) will be. Tip: ask people to write this down. Then, ask all those with option A to put hands on their head and all those with option B to cross their arms on their chest. It will quickly become obvious which preference is the majority. Award one point for everyone who predicted that result.
Further to above, use the inbuilt polling function (if possible) to quickly determine the majority preference of your group, ie you will need to create the questions and two choices in advance and activate the poll when ready.
Ask each participant to grab an object that is one colour (red) and a second object that is another colour (blue.) That is, everyone has both a red and blue object on hand. Pose your question and when it comes time to announce their individual preferences, nominate which coloured object represents each option and instruct everyone to hold it in front of the camera to tally the results, eg option A is red (show red object) and option B is blue.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Did you see the movie Sophie’s Choice starring Meryl Streep? The crux of the story line was how a mother was forced to choose to save the life of only one of her two children. How does one make this sort of decision? While not as monumental as this type of decision, this next exercise will invite you to consider the ethics between two difficult-to-choose propositions…
Just how well do you know your group? If I were to ask you a series of ethical or moral questions, how accurately could you predict the results? Let’s find out…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this powerful get-to-know-you-better, trust-building game:
How easy was it for you to make a decision?
What factors or criteria did you use to make certain decisions?
Did any of your choices surprise others who know you?
What might your choices reveal about you and your ethics and values? What about the group?
What ‘evidence’ did you take into account to make your decisions about the preference of the group?
The inspiration for This or That, and many powerful get-to-know-you better games, was sourced from the following publication: