Form three teams of roughly an equal number of people.
Announce that each team will soon be invited to interact with all other teams for two minutes.
In secret, tell each team to interact in one of three very specific ways.
For example, one team never looks into the eyes of those they are speaking with, another team always whispers when talking and the third team must keep at least 2 metres away from those they are speaking with.
When ready, challenge everyone to interact and engage in a conversation with as many people as possible.
In conclusion, invite your group to reflect on what they observed and experienced, eg draw valuable lessons about cultural diversity and communication.
How To Play Narrative
This is not only a wonderfully entertaining game, but it can also form the catalyst of a very powerful learning experience for your group.
First, form three teams of about the same number of people. Ask them to assemble some distance apart, because you need to equip them with further information that no other team should know.
You could simply whisper this secret information to each group, but often, I just write the idea on a small slip of paper and hand it to each team to read (silently.) Either way, the only people who should be fully aware of this information is the team it is given to.
For example, here are three common mannerisms I share, one for each team:
Never look into the eyes of those you are speaking with;
Always whisper when engaged in conversation; and
Keep at least 2 metres away from those you are speaking with.
When ready, announce that you would like everyone to mix and interact with one another for the sole purpose of engaging in as many conversations with others as possible. And, importantly, it is critical that every person honours the information that was shared with just their group.
You can probably imagine the chaos that will soon burst onto the scene. Much of it will be amusing, but of course, the point of this exercise is that for many people, these awkward interactions are very real and not fiction.
Allow these interactions to occur over the course of 1 or 2 minutes and then regather your group. You may have to explicitly ask some members of your group to shed their personas.
At this point, there is often a lot to unpack. Take the time to invite your group to reflect on their observations and experiences. Check out the Reflection Tips tab for some starting points.
If appropriate, guide your conversation to discuss the impact of assumptions and the benefits of embracing an empathetic attitude toward others as much as diversity and inclusion.
For example, in this particular activity, you may have focused on conversation as the vehicle for exploring these topics, but extend your discussion to explore other real-life attributes such as gender, sexuality, faith and race.
Practical Leadership Tips
When you frame it as “engaging in as many conversations as possible,” this is not to suggest this exercise is a competition. You simply want to encourage people to interact, lest some will refuse to engage with others at all.
When it comes to conversation, it does not matter what the topic is. If your group is struggling to think of conversational topics, feel free to give them a few ideas, eg the weather, the latest news headlines, favourite holiday destinations, etc.
Don’t be tempted to let this experience go on too long. Two minutes is normally long enough to allow most people to observe and experience the awkwardness of a variety of interactions and communication styles.
Be prepared for your reflection time to get deep or go for longer than you expected. This is a good thing, because it highlights the leverage adventure-based games can add to our programs, ie using group games to act as a catalyst for learning.
You could integrate Culture Shock as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
This exercise is nothing if not reading and navigating a wide variety of social situations and cues. Consider integrating this quick exercise into any program that seeks to develop emotional competencies such as the ability to cope with frustration, recognise and manage emotions and understand others’ perspectives. Indeed, you may deliberately choose a set of three mannerisms to frame a later conversation to help your group reflect on what healthy relationships look, sound and feel like. For example, if you wanted your group to focus on apathy, you may choose to instruct one of the groups to react apathetically to any form of interaction from others and/or instruct another group to react enthusiastically to everyone.
The focus and effort required to interact and engage physically with others in this exercise necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the level of empathy and compassion that was demonstrated during the activity and relate this to a set of observed impacts on others.
Alternative Mannerisms: Introduce one or more unique behaviours for a team to demonstrate such as staring (without blinking) at the person with whom they are talking, turning their body sideways to the person they are talking with, always looking down at the ground when talking, responding apathetically to all interactions, etc.
Take a look at Poker Face, Negotiation and Snowflake to explore three other fun exercises that will heighten your group’s awareness of empathy, diversity and inclusion.
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Useful Framing Ideas
It is said that most of our communication is conveyed via non-verbal forms such as facial expressions and body gestures. This fact is wonderfully portrayed in this next exercise…
How well do you think our group is ready to embrace diversity and inclusion? I think most of us think that we’re pretty open to these ideas, but in reality, these aspirations are quite often much harder to achieve. Keep this in mind as I introduce our next group challenge…
In a world riven with difference, how easy is it for you to accept others? What if we added a modicum of curiosity to our interactions, I wonder what could be possible.
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 leading this dynamic group activity:
One group at a time, what did you observe from the people you were aiming to interact with?
What else did you observe about the behaviours of others?
What did you make all of these social cues mean?
Were your interpretations true or did you make an assumption?
Outside of this experience (which was clearly a game) can you describe another example of when you read a situation poorly?
What is the possible impact when we make assumptions?
How can we embrace diversity and include everyone (rather than exclude them?)
The inspiration for Culture Shock was sourced from a workshop participant who presented it as part of an advanced leadership training workshop I was leading many years ago.