These scenarios are used by me with live actors improvising at a workshop on assertiveness.
We’ve used them in the public and private sector in the UK.
This is a particular approach to applying drama and improvisation in training in which professional actors are the ones improvising. We then use methods such as forum theatre to explore the issue of assertiveness. I’ve tried this in “role play” mode with participants and it doesn’t work nearly as well as skilled actors.
Interestingly it works better with actors who have life experience of the world of work, rather than actors who have only ever worked in the arts! Actors with work experience draw on this material as they improvise, making it believable and detailed where needed.
I recommend this as a powerful way to explore and practice assertiveness through direct theatre. Contact me if you want any further information to advice in using the activity.
Purpose of the Activity
This activity helps explore the issue of assertiveness and, by replaying the scenes in different ways, participants can explore different strategies for being assertive. The distance of participants from the live action takes away the pressure to perform and also allows the scenes to hold up a reflective “mirror” to participants so they can look at their own behaviours and identify areas for personal change.
Participants are the audience. The actors play out the scenes and can then be “hot seated” afterwards. In debrief we can explore different behaviours, resolving issues, and allowing audience to experiment. So one approach is:
Watch the improvised scenes
Debrief, question and discuss
Replay different versions of the scenes
Further reflection and questions and possible further replaying of the scenes
Participants reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses and lessons from the process of watching and engaging with the characters
Variations on the activity
- allow chosen participants to freeze the scene by calling out “freeze” and re-directing them
- allow chosen participants to step into the scenes playing one or more characters (Personally, I am no fan of “role play” and think it usually works better letting the actors do the acting!)
These are archeyptal assertiveness scenarios drawn from my past experience with client organisations. They can be rewritten, reworked and adapted as necessary. They serve as a brief to the actors.
Scenario 1 Angry Film
Mark is taking a DVD back to a shop – Audi is the shop assistant. It was a present for his partner. A surprise. When they tried to play it kept freezing. Mark is aggressive rather than assertive. The solution to this problem is that when Mark is assertive rather than aggressive he is more likely to get a positive outcome.
Suggestion: We’ll play this first as aggressive and then let participants explore how assertiveness can be more effective.
Scenario 2 Appraisal
Dan is Nina’s line manager. He is carrying out an annual appraisal, checking to see how things are going for Nina. Nina is very shy, friendly but giving short one word or short phrase replies. Nina is bored in her job and also feels that she’d like some more career opportunities. Dan knows that Nina is excellent at her job and this is an opportunity for her to say exactly how she’s like to develop in her career in the Arts Centre where they work. But Nina is reluctant to express what she wants. She’s done that in the past in other jobs and been disappointed, and also told off when she questioned things.
Scenario 3 Two’s a crowd
Ian and Megan are co-workers designing a web page in an IT Department for their company. They are discussing various colour schemes and animations for a client. There is a brief sheet but the brief is very open to their creative flair. Ian keeps interrupting Megan, not really listening to her ideas as much as she should. He isn’t nasty – he is just over-enthusiastic and not very skilled at working with another person. Megan finds it hard to be heard and gets frustrated.
Scenario 4 It’s a gas
This scene is done on the telephone. Neil is freezing cold. His heating has packed up. He lives alone. Neil is calling to get his central heating fixed – he is in a scheme which he pays for once a year. He wants them to visit at a time to suit his diary as he works every day. He is very good at asserting that he is cold and wants his heating fixed but is not good at asserting that it must be at a time to suit him. The discussion seems to result in the appointment getting further and further in the future. Neil has never called before for a problem and pays a lot for the service. But he gives too much away on the appointment time. The scene ends with him putting the phone down saying: “They are coming in 9 days time. 9 days? I’ll have to phone again”
Scenario 5 Upward Feedback
Debbie has come to see Cliff, a manager – not her line manager, but Cliff is above her. Debbie wants to give Cliff some feedback about how she felt he undermined the team meeting they were all just part of. She felt he made several sexist comments,. None about her personally, and also wasn’t listening to the concerns of their fellow team members about the new printing equipment being brought in that they would all have to use in their printing firm. She just wants to give Cliff the feedback and initially he tries to play it all down.
Scenario 6 Mutual Anger
In this scene both are being aggressive. Steve and Hilary are partners. They are arguing about the state of their flat. Neither has tidied for a week and the flat is a real mess. Both blame the other for being insensitive to the heavy workloads each has at work. Steve is a manager of a mail order gift firm and it is busy coming up to Christmas. Hilary works as a graphic designer and they have several major clients putting on the pressure. They are both being aggressive rather than assertive with each other. Neither is being heard.