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Playing in Class: Role Play in Training

What’s so bad about role playing? If you ask a group of adults to find a partner and role play a situation, they will most likely balk at the task. People shift in their places and look uncomfortable. There is deadly silence. Then there’s usually someone who has to return an “urgent” call or use the rest room. Suddenly everyone has something better to do than role play.

We don’t like being uncomfortable, and role playing puts us in a place we’re not used to. We’re not accustomed to pretend play as adults. In fact, we’re not used to playing at much in our business lives. It’s all so earnest and serious. Asking an adult to role play a situation is about as foreign to them as asking them to sing or recite a poem in front of their peers. (Except for those who are singers or actors!)

Role play has its place in training though, and especially in sales training. It’s one way an instructor can evaluate whether the learners have understood the material that was presented. By having learners engage in applying what’s been taught, the learner can begin to internalize the words and use and evaluate facial expressions and body language. Also, it’s nice to practice on someone who is not a client or prospective client!

So how do you get people to agree to role playing? Or perhaps more importantly: How do you get your learners to engage in role play? I believe there are five points to consider and implement for a successful in-class role playing exercise:

  • No pressure Participants need to understand that this is practice and anything can (and does) happen. There is no expectation of perfection. All they need to do is try.
  • Clear instructions Make it easy to understand what participants need to do. Break it down into bite-sized chunks.
  • Keep it short and simple No role play should go on and on. Very few people can remember what to say beyond a few questions or topics. The role play should focus on a discreet topic or line of questioning and be short enough that participants can change partners once or twice during the role playing exercise.
  • Sample script Have a sample script available either on a screen or in print that participants can refer to. Let them take the script with them or reference it as they practice with different partners in the class. No one needs to memorize a script to be able to role play. In fact, emphasize that participants should use their own words during the role play. This encourages them to adapt language so that they don’t sound “scripted” when talking to a prospect or client.
  • Self-evaluation Let participants evaluate their performance. Alternatively, have the partners in the role play give their evaluation. This should be as objective as possible. The instructor should not ask for these evaluations. They stay with the participants who know instinctively and immediately what they need to do to improve.

What do you do as the instructor through all the mayhem caused in a full classroom by role-playing participants? Wander around. Listen in to the conversations. If something is challenging all of the participants, you may wish to stop everyone to mention it. If things are going fairly well, let them continue. You may need to prompt students to move to another partner to practice again. Determine before you start how long you want the role playing to go on and end it promptly. Participants should have had the opportunity to role play with at least one partner, if not two.

Role playing can be an effective option in the trainer’s tool box to help learners understand how to communicate particular ideas, ask questions of prospects, gain appointments, and present information. By using role playing intentionally, keeping it short and to the point, and letting learners evaluate their performances, you’ll find that people don’t run for the door when you announce that “now we’re going to role play.”

New Year – New Business

The beginning of a new year is traditionally the time when we create new goals to attain during the year. It’s a clean slate where anything we want can happen. These may be personal goals or they might be business goals, depending on your situation. I set very different goals for 2020 than I have in the past.

My new year began with a renewal of sorts and a big change. For over eight years, I’ve served in the corporate training department of a large, independent real estate company. Most recently, I was the Director of Training and Professional Development. I’ve taught new and existing agents sales and technology skills. I’ve managed the budget, engaged outside trainers, produced a company convention, and handled a myriad of administrative duties. Over the course of the last year, I decided to leave this position and strike out on my own as an independent trainer. I began 2020 as a trainer for the Floyd Wickman Team, resolved to create my professional world according to my goals.

I have been trained to be able to present the Floyd Wickman Program to real estate agents across the United States. Unlike my past role, my ability to train agents will depend on connecting with like-minded brokerages that see the value of spaced training for real estate agents that focusses on creating a repeat and referral business. In other words, I have to work for the opportunity to present the program.

I believe strongly in the power of the Program. I have seen many agents participate and become stronger and more confident in their abilities as real estate agents. Agents who take the Program average one transaction (one listing, one sale, or one listing sold) per person, per week with more production coming after the Program ends. Most agents who take the Program are in the bottom 50% of their brokerages in terms of production. Most can really use this kind of production!

But why such an abrupt change in professional direction? I saw my training become perfunctory and routine. The minutiae of running a training department began to weigh more heavily on me each day. I have found that I am happiest when I am in front of a group of people, speaking, training, teaching, and motivating them to be better. Ultimately, I want to be able to affect lasting change in the people I train. Independence gives me the opportunity to focus on the aspects of training I can use to do this.

I decided to maintain my certification as a Realtors Property Resource trainer and to market my services as a continuing education instructor for real estate also. Being able to teach multiple topics gives me the flexibility to offer different kinds of classes for different purposes.

I am not the first nor the last person to leave a corporate job in hopes of creating a sustainable business as an independent trainer. I know that much of my success will depend on my ability (and tenacity) to find people who are willing to let me teach their people. It is a privilege to stand in front of a group of real estate agents and help them achieve their goals. In return, I am able to achieve mine. For that, I am profoundly grateful.

Perfection Paralysis

“Practice makes Perfect.”

“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”

These were two of my mother’s favorite sayings. The first one appeared when I didn’t want to practice for my piano lessons. I knew I was a decent piano player, but I was never going to be “perfect.” My ten-year-old brain’s reasoning surmised: “So why spend all that time practicing?”

The second of my mother’s favorite sayings could be heard when her children were saying nasty things to one another. At that tender age, I heard it to also mean that if you did’t pick your words well and couldn’t speak eloquently, be quiet.

Fast forward a few years. With maturity comes insight. I realized at some point that practice has benefits other than perfection. In fact, the saying should read: “Practice make competent.”

When we teach others a functional skill, we are working to get them to a level of competency so they can perform a task. We expect correctness, not perfection.

Much of training in a business consists of teaching people how to do something. If we force the issue that an employee or associate needs to do something error-free, we end up with frustration and disappointment. Sometimes good enough is good enough.

This is not to say that compliance training is unimportant or can be glossed over. When we teach for compliance, we expect associates to leave training with the tools they need to do their jobs competently and in compliance with the law. Perfection is not the issue here. Associates must understand and be aware of their words and actions.

We train people to lead in the organization by communicating effectively and being good listeners. No one is served if everyone keeps their ideas to themselves and does not express thoughts and opinions. Many of us have experienced the leader who shuts down associates in meetings in favor of his or her ideas. Done frequently enough, this results in associates not saying anything at all for fear of saying something wrong.

Self-censorship puts a stop to advancing the organization. What happens is that the lack of different viewpoints or ideas leads to staleness. Diversity of opinion offers fresh looks at a situation or problem. Everyone benefits when associates are encouraged to offer their ideas and solutions.

What can trainers do? Create a climate where people accept their mistakes and share ideas. Encourage differing viewpoints. Promote and listen to discussions. Help associates understand how they can better themselves. Embrace diversity. If we insist on perfection in actions and words in the workplace, we’ll experience a paralyzed workforce with little impetus to move forward in their work.

Perfectionism stops a lot of creativity.