Dramas that solve conflicts

Difficult management concepts can come alive through sociodrama, writes Ron Wiener
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The Independent Online
THE world of training positively bristles with dynamic management concepts these days. Any self-respecting company will happily embrace such notions as creativity, the management of change, conflict solutions, team functioning and so on.

But how best can these ideas be communicated to staff through training? One increasingly popular solution is through something known as sociodrama. Using this technique, a trainer will lead participants towards an understanding of how a company functions by examining relationships within it and the roles that people play.

When working with an organisation, a sociodramatist may start by looking at both the internal and external customers and stakeholders and the relationships between them. They then may explore the roles that people play, and indeed, the roles that are missing within the organisation. There may not, for example, be someone whose remit is to visualise future developments. The training will look at how people can develop new roles or new ways of playing existing roles. In doing this, sociodramatists become involved in developing people's spontaneity and creativity.

In working with conflict, sociodramatists will use role reversal and "doubling". In role reversal people swap roles so that they can understand how the situation looks from another viewpoint. In doubling people give voice to the unspoken thoughts and feelings in a situation of conflict.

Sometimes "sculpting" can be used. This is where an issue is built physically. In a managing directorate where there were tensions between the directors at HQ and the directors in the regions, each group built, using the furniture in the room, its version of the situation. Each group then had to interpret the other's sculpture. This provided the opening for an honest exchange of views.

A sociodramatist might create role plays which enable a group to work through a problem. Therefore in managing change this might be handled by the metaphor of a boat setting sail to a new land. The scenes might involve the preparation before sailing, the departure, the fate of those left behind, the dangers on the sea and landing at the destination. There would be an opportunity to look at key roles such as that of captain and navigator, what sort of charts were needed, what rocks or dangerous currents existed.

Obviously the metaphor would need to be translated back into the actual situation, and action plans developed. What the sociodrama does is to enable participants to stand back from the situation, look at it afresh and work creatively towards a solution.

Sociodrama is based on many of the principles of adult learning. It draws directly on people's experiences, is relevant to their concerns, and engages them in the learning process. They then have time to reflect on and theorise about what they have experienced before planning any new actions and strategies.

Sociodramatists are always concerned about the wider social, political and economic influences. The real world, of course, doesn't work according to text book formulae. People make decisions from a combination of external and internal factors. But sociodrama gives people the chance to explore these different facets.

Dr Ron Wiener is a management trainer and sociodramatist and an associate consultant in the School of Continuing Education at Leeds University. He is also the author of the recently published 'Creative Training' (JKP).