“And the Oscar goes to…” – Enhancing mentoring conversations with role-plays and scenarios

Have you ever thought about using  role-playing and scenarios as a learning mechanism in your mentoring conversations?

Did you know that these learning methods are a fantastic way to quickly teach relationship and behaviour skills, processes and procedures, judgement and decision making just to name a few?

Role-playing and scenarios are a very powerful learning mechanism. Regardless of whether you are holding a one-to-one mentoring conversation or you are in a group mentoring setting, role-plays and scenarios can push participants outside of their comfort zone to trial reactions and responses to real life situations. Importantly, participants are able to quickly recall this learning in the future when needed.

However, role-plays and scenarios are the most under-utilised and overlooked learning strategies, mostly because the can tend to make participants feel awkward and uncomfortable as they unfamiliar with how role playing should work and how to ‘act’ the part to achieve the desired learning outcome.

Now, you don’t need to be an award-winning Hollywood actor with block-buster credits to your name to ‘act’ out realistic and impactful role-plays and scenarios for your mentoring relationships! In this article, we look at why role playing is important for mentoring, how to integrate it into your conversations, and what you can do to get started.

Why use role plays and scenarios for mentoring conversations?

Role plays and scenarios are a mode of ‘experiential’ or ‘active’ learning that is highly participative for the learner as it stimulates, emotions, problem solving, lively discussion and debate. The neuroscience science behind this type of experiential learning is key. Through learner engagement, information is retained longer and can be recalled easily in the future when the need arises.  These methods promote deep learning, long-term memory retention and can be very memorable and powerful for participants.

Role-plays and scenarios provide a safe setting where realistic challenges or hypothetical situations (professional, technical, ethical as examples) can be explored without a real risk or problem. As such, they prepare participants with the skills, knowledge, strategies and actions that can be applied future real time issues or challenges.

Where you might use role plays and scenarios?

The typical applications for role playing include:

  • Behavioural and relationship based scenarios – enabling the learner to elicit and develop soft skills such as communication, leadership, negotiation, persuasion, managing and de-escalating conflict, political astuteness, active listening, providing and receiving feedback.
  • Principle based learning scenarios – enabling the learner to gain insight into the key principles that underpin and influence a problem, decision or judgement. The key focus is on situations or tasks that cannot be solved by applying simple rules or processes to reach an outcome. Instead, critical thinking and decision making is encouraged to guide the discovery to insight or arrive at an outcome and decision.
  • Rules or process based learning scenarios – a sequential and largely instructional based approach with a focus on rules and processes that are often guided by policy or procedure. This approach is fantastic for learning new business processes in the event of changes or introductions to the workflow.

How can you get started?

In the most basic form, a role-play or scenario could involve a simple description of an event or situation followed by a single question. But, it could be in the form of a more elaborate scenario that could be developed in stages with ‘layers’ with one or more questions as the event or situation unfolds.

In a ‘branching’ scenario, the information for each stage will be driven by the questioning and responses in previous stages. In this instance, the skills and experience of the mentor drives the conversation and topic and provides continuous challenge and thought provoking questions as the scenario evolves. Of course, the choices the mentee makes during previous stages will also dictate the learning journey.

Key factors to consider when conducting role-plays and scenarios:

Regardless of which approach you take, ensure you incorporate the following elements into role-plays and scenarios:

  • Sufficient mental processing (complexity and focus) and connecting of information
  • Include identifiable situations, problems, decisions or tasks
  • Events or actions are in logical sequence
  • Content is relevant and is an accurate representation of a situation, outcome and consequence
  • Scenarios are as close to ‘real-life’ as possible
  • Issues and challenges are related to the learning task and desired outcome.

The importance of feedback during role playing and scenarios

Feedback is an essential element of role-playing and scenarios. This can be direct, focused and immediate as you complete a scenario. However, in a ‘branching’ scenario, feedback is delivered during the flow and is driven by the choices and pathways as the scenario unfolds. Feedback is critical as it enables participants to learn by seeing the potential results of decisions.

Simple steps and a ‘cheat sheet’ to get you started:

  1. Identify and frame the challenge, issue or task
  2. Identify the learning outcomes or specific capabilities and skills to be acquired
  3. Decide if the scenario will be a behavioural, principle or rule based scenario – or a combination
  4. Brief your scenario partner on their role and desired outcome ensuring they can contribute to the level required
  5. Agree to what’s in and out in terms of the challenge and questioning.
  6. Get started and remember to have fun!

A word of caution.

Because of its power, role-plays and scenarios can cause more harm than good if they are not conducted properly. So, consider these points before getting started:

  • Ensure your role-playing partner is able to provide expert individual feedback. Role-playing can reinforce the wrong behaviour as well as the right behaviour.
  • Role playing works best when both partners are familiar with how they should respond or behave. Be sure your scenario and outcomes are pitched at the right level.
  • If you are planning on working with very challenging or emotional charged scenarios, stay within the role you have been assigned. In these scenarios, role playing can devolve into fits of laughter or real discomfort ruining the learning opportunity.

So regardless of whether you are a mentor or mentee, explore how you might bring this simple and very effective ‘active’ learning mechanisms in to your mentoring conversations.

Are you interested in more tools? Access the Mentoring Mindset Free Resource Guide to support your mentoring journey.

Do you want to take your mentoring to the next level? Are you seeking a mentor or would like to become a mentor? Contact me for a Strategy Session to discuss how I can help you!

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