The value of role-play

“Would you like to talk that through?” my colleague said.

I was going to be talking to a family about a situation.

I’ve talked with lots of families about situations, but never as a chaplain, needing to convey precise information. A colleague had helped me understand the information. She’d helped me with the details, with the context. As I gathered my papers and my courage she had one last question: “Would you like to talk that through?”

I did. I needed to say the words out loud to a person, to feel how the words moved through space, to see facial reactions. I needed to take all my thoughts from all the corners of my brain and put them in linear order.

“I’ll be the dad,” she said. “You be you.”

I remembered almost everything. She reminded me of a couple nuances. She helped me understand some eye contact needs. And I headed out to a room to say the words a second time.

As chaplains, we often have to say really hard things. They are even harder to hear. But the pain of the words is enough. We needn’t inflict the pain of confusion or imprecision. Rehearsing the words, role-playing them, planning them won’t make them easy to say or hear, but they will be far more accurate, far more fluent.

Sometimes I write out the words. Sometimes I make a note or two and then speak the beginning of the conversation. I’ve realized that competent offering of words to one family at a time of crisis is at least as important as finding the words for a Sunday sermon.

Conversations that are familiar don’t need as much role play. Not that it is ever easy to ask a family about the funeral home they would like. I always stop to think before I walk into the room where we will be watching the ventilator tube being removed.

But the last hard conversation prepared me for this one. And once I understand the idea, once I’ve internalized the phrasing, I respond with greater freedom.

When our practice includes words, it’s worth the work of practicing our words.



Before You Walk In Copyright © 2021 by Jon Charles Swanson. All Rights Reserved.

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