This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Just yesterday I heard a workshop participant utter something I hear all the time. During closing reflections on the day he said, “As much as I hate role plays, what we did was really helpful.” Read on to find out why you should pay attention to that comment, and why the phrase, “Don’t try this at home” definitely does not apply when it comes to role-playing … and trust building.

Role plays are a thing we all love to hate. They’re uncomfortable. Awkward. Forced.

On the flip side, they’re an essential part of the workout routine for anyone who wants to take their relationship skills to a new level of mastery. You can’t just cognitively understand your way into leading with trust; you have to practice over time to develop new habits.

One reason most of us hate role plays is we hate to look bad, or to appear to have failed. Yet, research shows that the brain actually works better when making mistakes. In How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer reports that a computer programmed to play chess by measuring what it got “wrong” ended up beating the reigning chess champion. In the case of trustworthiness practice, role-playing exercises allow you to make mistakes safely—when you see how you went wrong, you can learn important lessons while simultaneously conquering your fears.

Do you struggle to start a conversation with a C-level exec? Then practice the start of a conversation, again and again.

Do you find yourself sometimes feeling like a “deer in headlights” in client conversations? Then jot down the kinds of things clients say that can trigger you. Hand your list to a colleague and ask him or her to play the client role so you can try out different responses.

Want to be better at empathetic listening? Then drill your replies to a variety of client comments/complaints.

You won’t want to do it—no one does. And I promise you’ll be glad you did.

Make It Real

This week, just do it: get together with one or two colleagues and create listening drills together, or rehearse an entire conversation. What did you do well? More importantly, what could you have done better?

Learn More


Get step-by-step instructions for our favorite improv games (the most fun kind of role play), or read other tips for trustworthiness training in Chapter 31 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

The following two tabs change content below.

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).