Implicit Knowledge And Role Play In Coaching

As a Master Certified Coach I find myself often bumping into taken for granted knowledge and practices. There are things I do and I don’t even remember how or where I learnt how to do them. They are natural now, underpinned by loads of implicit knowledge. 


One of the beauties of teaching for me is the opportunity to unpack coaching practice, to become more conscious of it. In working with emerging coaches, I experience the pleasure of learning and relearning all over again.


I had that experience recently while observing a role play. Role play is a strategy that coaches often draw on. But what does it take to make this method an intentional part of great practice…     


I found myself reflecting on the question: What do I take for granted that needs to be taught to our students? 


Here are some of my thoughts, from the more well known, to those things that are a little more advanced.


  1. An Embodied Learning Experience

Role plays support embodied learning. Opportunities for rehearsal deepen learning and build confidence. So they are a great way to ground learning.


  1. From Idea to Execution

A role play takes an abstract and untested idea into the realm of practical execution. They provide an opportunity to test our ideas. 


Sometimes on hearing the words spoken aloud, and imagining the other party’s response, the client revises their strategy entirely. Or perhaps the strategy is sound but there’s a gap between our idea of what we are doing and our actual execution and performance. The role play reveals this. 


  1. What Is Actually Happening?

Role plays provide valuable data about patterns of behaviour. What are the habitual ways in which the client approaches this scenario? 

It’s not just the existence of an execution gap that interests us, but the precise nature of that gap. Being able to put our finger on that reveals where there is work to be done.  


  1. Addressing The Execution Gap

Sometimes emerging coaches struggle to facilitate the client’s reflections on their role play. On occasions they let the role play run too long and don’t interrupt even when habits that don’t serve the client are being rehearsed. At other times, a coach may be nervous about offending the client, or appearing critical. It’s important to know what is happening for you as a coach in these moments, and where your own growth lies.


There are a few options for working with execution gaps. The coach can elect to offer direct feedback (after permissioning in of course). 


Or they can ask powerful coaching questions that help the client to self-evaluate. For my money this is more effective – you can fill in the gaps once you know what the client is aware of. Where or not the client is aware of their delivery is important information. You’ll miss that if you start stepping into giving your observations without testing their perceptions first.


Our meta-skills as coaches are critical as we explore execution gaps. Clarity and attention to detail, as well as non-judement and unconditional support are important. 

We need to be able to cultivate a growth mindset in clients who are defensive, sensitive to feedback or have strong inner critics.


  1. Harvesting Live Data

 Ok … so let’s dive even deeper to the opportunities that role play provides.


It’s not just any strengths and gaps we are looking for when we observe or participate in a role play but the precise nature of the scenario that is being played out. 


GCI’s LINK process oriented coaches don’t just look at the individual in isolation, but at their broader organisational and cultural context. 


What is the pattern or dance you are witnessing. What are the forces at play? What are you learning about the relationship dynamic? What are the background social and cultural assumptions.


What do you witness in the role play that they have overlooked in their description of the situation? 


When the coach is alert to the situational dynamics they can start to add real value in the rehearsal. They help their client’s develop situational awareness.


  1. Detaching In The Face of Triggers

 Role plays also reveal triggers and those things that derail us. So in addition to being in the role play it is good to be able to pull out of the role play, to reflect on what has just transpired, what is important, what is not working.


Most of us lose awareness when we are triggered. As I noted earlier, when the client lacks awareness or is stuck, the role play etc may not be enough to bring change. It can just reinforce current narratives and patterns of behaviour – unless the coach intervenes. 


The client often benefits from stepping back from the role play when ‘it’ (e.g. their current beliefs/ physiological triggers) has them. Detaching is an important part of the learning that you will model as a coach by interrupting the role play to encourage reflection.  


As coaches we need to be able to track and bring awareness to the impacts of physiology, cognitive process, underlying emotions and behaviour.


  1. Role Play Provides An Opportunity for Experimentation

 And finally, on a lighter note. Role play allows opportunities for experimentation. For trying new approaches in a safe environment, that offers support and feedback.


If you’d like to learn more about working with role play, or coaching clients who display high emotion or are perhaps even embroiled in conflict please reach out to us, or check out our forthcoming Conflict Management coaching and internationally accredited Executive & Systems Coaching programs.


CALL TO ACTION …. Our Next Level 1 with links and CONFLICT COACHING

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