Ask each person to stand and face about 2 metres away from the other.
Instruct each person walk towards their partner ‘as if…’ they were acting out a particular role, eg long-lost friend.
When ready, invite all partners to interact, for approx 60 seconds.
Take a minute to invite your group to reflect on what happened and what they observed during the round.
Next, instruct each person to engage in a second round, this time acting as if they were playing a different role, eg two family members who had a heated argument yesterday seeing each other the next day.
Allow approx 60 seconds of interaction, then pause and reflect again.
Finally, instruct each person to engage in a third round, this time acting as if they were a different role/person (see Variations tab for many options.)
Allow for 60 seconds of interaction, then pause and reflect on what transpired.
If time allows, invite your group to reflect on what lessons could be learned from this exercise that applies to their lives.
How To Play Narrative
Looking for a fun, yet powerful way to explore ways of being and roles? This is it.
Ask your group to form into pairs. If you’re looking for a fun way to produce random partnerships, take a look at Getting into Pairs.
Invite each pair to face one another and stand about 2-3 metres (6-10′) apart.
Explain that in a few moments, you will announce one of a series of scenarios you would like each partnership to role-play, where everyone assumes the role of a particular person ‘as if’ they were that person.
Your request is for each partnership to engage and interact with one another, as if they were these particular roles, for approximately 60 seconds.
Field any questions, and when ready, say “GO” and invite each person to step forward to act as if they were this particular person or role.
In your first round, you could ask each person to act as if they were long lost friends, ie they were very good friends many years ago, but have lost contact and have just managed to see one another again.
This first round is generally quite fun because you proposed rather positive circumstances for each of their roles. But on occasions, it doesn’t always work out that way. To that end, be sure to take a few moments at the end of round one to process your group’s experience.
You could ask many questions, such as:
Was this an exciting meeting? Why?
Did anyone not enjoy re-connecting with their long lost friend? Why?
Describe the energy between you during this experience.
Then, when ready, play a second round.
This time, invite each person to assume a new, more difficult role, such as if each of you were co-workers, but you had a terrible argument yesterday and you are about to see each other for the first time the day after. And… go.
This is clearly more difficult and will bring up many issues for some people, whereas for others, it will be an opportunity to mend the relationship and move forward. Clearly, there are many wonderful opportunities for a meaningful debrief here.
Permit each partnership to engage with each other in this second round for about 60 seconds, pause to reflect on it, and then move to a third round.
The beauty of this exercise is that there’s no limit to the number and type of roles you could invite your group to play. For example, ask one person to be a young camper who has just been dropped off at camp for the first time, while their partner acts as if they were an experienced cabin counsellor.
Check out the Variations tab for a bunch more ‘As if…’ roles.
Clearly, you could just choose a series of fun roles to play, and enjoy a few minutes of high energy and positive interaction.
Or, you could make things more interesting and invite partners to take on roles for which they may have significant connections to, or even substantial objections to assuming.
To this end, this ‘As if…’ exercise is a wonderful sandbox in which you can experiment with a variety of roles and beings, perhaps with a view to helping your group navigate conflict gracefully.
Either way, have fun.
Practical Leadership Tips
The purpose of starting a couple of metres away from one another, and then returning to this spot is to acknowledge that the role play only occurs in the middle, and ends when each person returns to their ‘safe’ zone. Ideal for developing empathy skills.
This exercise can be a really powerful strategy to get profoundly related to standing in the shoes of another person, so to speak.
A word of warning. As much as this exercise can be a great deal of fun and can offer some valuable insights into relationships, it can also sometimes be difficult to navigate around issues of pretence, ie an individual trying to be someone or something they are not. My general approach is to avoid activities that involve pretence – because it is often very difficult in reality to manage someone who is working hard at being something they are not – but, I share this one because I know, with care and appropriate framing, it is possible to squeeze value from it.
You could integrate As If… into a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others from different backgrounds and settings.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Recognising Strengths, Prejudices & Biases
Controlling One’s Emotions
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Demonstrating Empathy & Compassion
Understanding & Expressing Gratitude
Recognising Strengths In Others
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Demonstrate Cultural Competency
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
Standing in the shoes of another person, as this exercise invites on several occasions, is a great way to explore emotional literacy. If only for a few moments, and even then via a fun role-play activity, it is clear this activity is all about building the social and interpersonal skills of your group, ie see the Social-Emotional Learning tab for more.
Be sure to review the questions in the Reflection Tips tab to learn some useful ways to guide your group to process their interactions, some of which may be quite confronting.
As If… is also a powerful exercise to explore Full Value behavioural norms, especially the core competencies of Care for Self & Others, Be Honest and Be Here. For example, in the context of being present, one must really focus on ‘being’ another person or role for a short period of time. This role-play can be fun, but it takes effort and practice to perform respectfully.
Potential Roles: The number of roles you could invite your group to play are limitless. Here are seven to get you started:
– Polite Contact – two strangers are sitting next to one another in a plane on a short flight.
– Discipline Issues – a misbehaving teenager is being addressed by a disappointed parent.
– Class Action – a peasant from medieval times seeks favour from their king or queen.
– Consensus Making – one co-worker disagrees with the decision taken by their colleague.
– Performance Issues – an under-performing student is approached by an empathetic teacher.
– Generation Gap – a young person is talking to a grandparent about their enthusiasm for social media.
– Salary Gap – an employee approaches their boss to ask for a raise.
Swap Roles: Quite literally, invite each person to swap roles with their partner and replay the situation a second time. Process as appropriate, particularly in regards to what was discovered or learned performing the opposite roles.
Group Role Play: Invite small groups of three to five people to assume a particular role as if they were acting the role of another person or being.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
After you have described the activity, allocate your participants into random groups of two people (pairs) to perform this exercise in their own breakout room (if possible.) Allow 60 seconds and then return everyone to the large group to reflect on what transpired.
Integrate a variety of roles that are specific to ‘online’ or ‘virtual’ settings, eg online customer support, long-distance family reunions, etc.
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Powerful exercise to set the tone & teach responsibility.
Series of questions which help identify difference.
Useful Framing Ideas
No one can ever make you feel anything. The actions of others may influence your choice of how you’re feeling at any point in time, but ultimately, we are all responsible for who we are being every moment of the day. This next exercise will challenge you to keep this universal truth in mind as you take on a variety of interesting roles…
Have you heard the refrain “As if…?” It is normally uttered when one person says something to another that the latter thinks to be quite, literally, unbelievable. Well, imagine if it was possible to live as if the situation was true. What would this be like? Let’s find out, shall we…
Our lives are created in each and every moment we exist. And in each moment, we get to choose who we are being. Let’s explore what it looks like, sounds like and feels like when we change our being in particular scenarios…
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 fascinating partner role-play exercise:
What did you notice about the roles played by you and your partner?
Was it difficult for you to play this role? Why? Why not?
What made your interactions awkward?
Do you think your roles were played convincingly? Why?
Were you able to empathise with your partner’s role? Do you think they empathised with you? What was the evidence for this?
Was there conflict? How did you or your partner respond to this?
What does it take to empathise with another person?
How might this exercise be useful to us in our work/play/family life?
The inspiration for As If… was sourced from the book Setting the Conflict Compass, by Michelle Cummings.