How to Make a Drama out of a Crisis Role-Playing Can Help to Turn Great Employees into Equally Good Managers. Meg Carter on the Actors Who Really Mean Business
Carter, Meg, The Independent (London, England)
Putting yourself in others' shoes has long been the key to a successful career in theatre or film. Now people are realising that it is critical for success in other jobs, too, as companies place a growing emphasis on customer service and effective communication. Closing a deal, answering a complaint or dealing with difficult people are important lessons for tomorrow's managers to learn. And employers are recruiting psychologists and actors to ensure staff make the grade.
"You cannot be a good manager until your interpersonal skills match the quality of your technical ability," says Paul Dixey, an actor and founder of the training company Role Players. "Yet there are a lot of brilliant people in business who fall down when it comes to communicating effectively with other people."
It's easy to get stuck in one particular management style - the one that comes easiest. However, this is not necessarily the best approach. And what might be appropriate for one company may be totally inappropriate for another. "Building bridges and relationships can be different depending on if you are working in a hierarchical or in a flat organisation," he points out. Understanding what makes people tick doesn't come naturally to everyone. Some of us may be innately intuitive, others academically trained in a related subject, but, for the rest of us, day-to-day working life is focused on dealing with the task in hand. Add to that British unease about just where to draw the line at work between our emotional and our professional lives, and the scene is set for a myriad of potential problems. "The best communicators don't necessarily have the best answers," says Alan Margolis, a management training specialist whose company, Hampstead Training Consultants, runs courses for the Institute of Personnel Development. A smooth presentation style doesn't always reflect a clear understanding of the emotions or motivations driving a particular situation. "Encouraging people to confront this, get into the other person's head and try and work it out is a very useful exercise," Mr Margolis declares. He uses role play, encouraging participants in his courses to "play" their boss, colleague or client in scenes recreated from their working lives. Other companies - such as Role Players, Actors in Management and Drama at Work - run similar sessions, although with actors on hand to heighten the reality and provide emotional feedback. "When participants are with their own peers, there's added pressure on them from having to act. When they're with actors, they tend to forget they're acting - the focus is on the issues," says Jill Connick, partner and co-founder of Actors in Management, whose clients include House of Fraser and Lloyds TSB. "If you don't get to people's emotions, you won't be able to start understanding and changing people's behaviour. We use drama in training to help people deal with difficult emotions and develop their influencing skills - for example, to pass on hard messages without making someone feel defensive or antagonistic." While actors don't have a monopoly on being in touch with their emotions, it is their stock in trade. "Without resorting to psychobabble, it is possible for an actor to create a believable emotional situation involving a member of staff and provide constructive insight about what it felt like to be on the receiving end," Mr Dixey believes. This also works to dilute the dangers of participants being negatively typecast. Role Players works with a range of blue chip companies, accountancy and legal firms, banks and business schools, providing role play across a range of possible work situations. Mr Dixey's numerous corporate roles include the employee with an attitude problem, the employee who is not up to the grade and the about-to- be- sacked employee - during one recent course he was "sacked" over a dozen times. …