We live in an information-driven society, where communication determines how fast we learn.
Cooperation and collaboration underpin how we work together, and done brilliantly, can determine our competitive advantage.
At the human level, our social resources play a massive part in our happiness and well-being in the workplace.
We can brush it all off as too soft and fuzzy, or we can embrace communication as one of the keys to an emotionally intelligent workplace. But because the way we get along is so fundamental to organizational success and human flourishing, many more companies are focusing on the latter.
In this article, you will find 15 communication exercises, games, and tips to help you improve teamwork and collaboration in your workplace. If you have any great activities that we haven’t covered, do let us know!
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free. These science-based tools will help you and those you work with build better social skills and better connect with others.
This Article Contains:
- What are Communication Exercises and Games?
- The Importance of Communication in the Workplace
- 7 Tips on Improving Communication Skills at Work
- 3 Games and Exercises to Improve Workplace Communication Skills
- 3 Activities to Improve Communication Between Employees
- 3 Active Listening Games and Exercises for the Workplace
- 3 Team Building Communication Games and Exercises
- 3 Communication Exercises and Activities for Groups
- A Take-Home Message
What are Communication Exercises and Games?
Typically, communication is seen as a ‘soft’ skill—because it’s not easily quantifiable. Compared to profits, losses, and even risk, it is intangible. Unless it’s either terrible or completely absent. Communication exercises and games are interactional activities that aim to develop how we relate to one another, including how we share information and get along.
They can be one-on-one or team exercises, but the goal is the same: they help us develop our interpersonal skills and improve our capacity to relate.
The Importance of Communication in the Workplace
Communication is a whole lot more than just talking—although, that is a fundamental part of relationship-building and knowledge-transfer. To really grasp how big of an impact it has, we can touch on some of the theory. Surprisingly, taking a step back to look at some theory can sometimes be just as helpful, if not more so, than ‘getting on with it’.
What are Workplace Communication Skills?
Succinctly, they help us convey information to others in an effective way. And, they go above and beyond coherent speech in many ways—we talk, we use silence, body language, tone of voice, and eye-contact—voluntarily and unconsciously. With a broad and beautiful rainbow of ways to communicate, then, how do we know what’s considered a skill? What’s noise and what’s a message? What matters?
Drawing on empirical literature on communication skills in the workplace, we can look at Maguire and Pitcheathly’s (2002) study of doctors for a good example. In medical professions, it’s particularly critical not just to extract and interpret information—often, from conversation partners who lack crucial information themselves—but to convey it empathetically and with clarity.
The authors described several key communication skills as follows:
– The ability to elicit patients’ problems and concerns.
Swap ‘patients’ with clients, co-workers, managers, and so forth, and we can see that this is readily applicable in many other work situations. That is, the ability to understand, explore and clarify what others are talking about, and to solicit more details if and when the situation requires it.
Doctors also described effective communication as being able to summarize what the patient/other had related to correct information and display understanding.
Benefits: In an objective sense, we need to extract information so we can channel our efforts accordingly. Deadlines, role boundaries, budgets, and the ‘why, how, what’ of tasks. But active listening encourages pleasant social interactions, which in turn, these boost our well-being and life satisfaction (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).
– The ability to deliver information effectively.
The doctors studied also checked with their patients what their beliefs were about what was wrong. In other workplaces, team situations call for clarity—a shared goal is the ideal, but very often we come at situations with at least a few different beliefs. Alternatively, we may be quick to assume that others understand what we are saying when situations actually require further explanation.
To deal with this, the doctors:
- Reorganized information where required (e.g. into categories);
- Checked that patients understood them before moving on; and
- Checked whether they wanted further information.
Benefits: Our messages need to make sense if we want to convey information in a meaningful way. That applies both to our language and the extent to which we empathize. Effective information delivery helps us define goals, transfer knowledge, and successfully accomplish shared tasks.
– Discussing treatment options.
Communication, in its most basic form at least, is dyadic—a two-way, and (one would hope) mutually beneficial flow of information. In this study, giving a diagnosis and treatment options was only one part of the job. Doctors described how important it was to see whether patients wanted to participate in choosing their treatment.
They determined their perspectives before decision-making; in other settings, this is inviting participation and engagement.
Benefits: As discussed, information delivery is crucial, but our focus here is opening up discussions. Giving others a chance to contribute allows us to factor in more perspectives and diverse opinions. We can encourage more engagement, commitment, and complement one another’s different skills for better results.
– Being supportive.
Doctors described empathy in terms of feedback and validation. They showed that they understood how their patients were feeling to relate at an interpersonal level; where they didn’t know, they at least made a stab at empathizing through educated guesses.
Benefits: We don’t need to look too far to find sources of workplace stress that might be impacting our colleagues. By empathizing, we not only build better relationships, but we show that we are available as key ‘job resources’ – social support for those around us to reduce the negative impacts of our job demands (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).
Put even more simply, we make work a nicer place to be while avoiding unnecessary conflict.
Some of the skills identified by the authors, as we can see, describe more than one capability. As humans, we’re complex. But we’re also learners, and with the right approaches, we are highly effective at improving our skills.
7 Tips on Improving Communication Skills at Work
Maguire and Pitcheathly’s (2002) clinical review offered several learning tips, the first of which was an emphasis on proper communication skills training. As well as identifying key communication deficits and their root causes, these included several that relate to our knowledge of positive psychology and communication.
3 Tips for Creating a Supportive Learning Environment
First, we need to create an optimal learning environment if we want to maximize our improvement; in this sense:
- Communication skills need to be modeled and practiced, not simply taught – a nod to experiential learning, which is frequently emphasized in emotional intelligence learning (SEL) (Haertel et al., 2005; Kolb, 2014);
- They are best learned and practiced in safe, supportive environments, which studies show are central to learning behavior (Edmonson et al., 2004); and
- Constructive performance feedback is helpful, but “only once all positive comments have been exhausted” (Maguire & Pitcheathly, 2002: 699). Peer feedback is also a useful job resource when it comes to work engagement; as a form of social support, it can help stimulate our learning and development—that includes communication skills (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Bakker et al., 2008).
4 Tips for Enhancing Communication Skills
We can also look at the business literature for some more support of what we identified earlier as key communication skills. Breaking these down into tips, here are 4 fairly broad ways we can enhance our communication skills to increase our effectiveness and well-being.
– Work on your emotional perception
Perception of emotions is a key component of Mayer and Salovey’s emotional intelligence framework and covers the ability to read others’ non-verbal cues as well as their potential moods (Salovey & Mayer, 1990).
At the individual level, we can make conscious use of this EQ skill to gauge how others are feeling. Is your colleague overwhelmed, perhaps? Is now the best possible time to ask them for help on a task? Or, have you noticed someone in the corner of the room who has been dying to contribute to the meeting?
– Practice self-awareness
Our non-verbal behavior and the way we speak is critical. Different studies vary on exactly how much of our intended message (and credibility) is non-verbal, but it’s undoubtedly important (DePaulo & Friedman, 1998; Knapp et al., 2013).
When the words we speak convey one message and our body another, we risk confusion and potentially, we jeopardize our intended impact. To enhance our influencing skills and the quality of our working relationships with others, it helps to practice being aware of your own non-verbal behaviors.
– Give others a chance to engage
Communication is a two-way street, at the very least. And as more than one collective intelligence researcher has pointed out, teams are more than the sum of their parts (Woolley et al., 2010).
When we get together as humans, we need a chance to communicate just as much as we need our individual ‘smarts’, and essentially, it comes down to social sensitivity—emotional perception once again. We can look at Leary’s Rose for more insights on how and why, but this time, the tip is to understand when to communicate or step back (Leary, 2004).
– Practice listening
Talking is essentially a form of content delivery, and it’s not really communication unless we listen. Active listening involves engaging with our co-workers and bringing empathy to the table to enhance the quality of our dialogue.
Sometimes mentioned along with ‘reflective questioning’, it involves, “restating a paraphrased version of the speaker’s message, asking questions when appropriate, and maintaining moderate to high nonverbal conversational involvement” (Weger Jr et al., 2014: 13). It helps us create more clarity, take in information more effectively, and develop our workplace relationships through empathetic engagement (Nikolova et al., 2013).
3 Games and Exercises to Improve Workplace Communication Skills
Some of these activities will require a facilitator, and some just a group of colleagues. None of them require professional facilitation per se, and any participant can easily volunteer to keep the process on track.
1. Back-to-Back Drawing
This exercise is about listening, clarity and developing potential strategies when we communicate. In communicating expectations, needs, and more, it helps to clarify and create common ground. This can show what happens when we don’t…
For this activity, you’ll need an even number of participants so everybody can have a partner. Once people have paired off, they sit back-to-back with a paper and pencil each. One member takes on the role of a speaker, and the other plays the part of the listener.
Over five to ten minutes, the speaker describes a geometric image from a prepared set, and the listener tries to turn this description into a drawing without looking at the image.
Then, they talk about the experience, using several of the following example questions:
- What steps did you take to ensure your instructions were clear? How could these be applied in real-life interactions?
- Our intended messages aren’t always interpreted as we mean them to be. While speaking, what could you do to decrease the chance of miscommunication in real-life dialogue?
- What was constructive about your partner’s instructions?
- In what ways might your drawing have turned out differently if you could have communicated with your partner?
2. Effective Feedback in “I” Mode
Defensiveness is a root cause of miscommunication and even conflict in the workplace. We’re not always ready to receive and learn from criticism, especially when it’s delivered insensitively. This exercise introduces “I” statements, which describe others’ behavior objectively while allowing the speaker to express the impact on their feelings.
Employees can pair off or work alone, in either case, they will need a worksheet of imaginary scenarios like this one. Together or solo, they can create “I” statements about how the imaginary scenario makes them feel. When done in pairs, they can practice giving each other feedback on ‘meaning what you say’ without triggering defensiveness in the other.
3. Storytelling with CCSG
Storytelling is an engaging way to convey information; when it’s positive information, narratives are also highly effective means of motivating and inspiring others (Tomasulo & Pawelski, 2012). Appreciative Inquiry, for example, is one type of positive psychology intervention that uses storytelling in a compelling way, as a means to share hopes and build on our shared strengths.
Through this exercise, we can practice structuring our narratives—essentially we’ll have one ‘information delivery’ tool to draw on when we feel it might help (like the doctors we looked at earlier). CCSG is a structure, and it involves:
To use the structure as an exercise, participants simply relate a narrative using CCSG. For example, one team member might describe a past success of the group or team, where their collective strengths helped them succeed. The Characters would then be whoever was involved, the Conflict may be a challenge the team faced (a new growth opportunity, perhaps).
The Struggle might be something like geographical distance between team members, and the Goal would be just that: their objective or success.
Visit this site for more details.
3 Activities to Improve Communication Between Employees
Because communication is so multi-faceted, we’ve included a selection of different activity types. These interpersonal and team communication games cover topics such as misinterpreting information, awareness of our assumptions and engaging others.
1. Direction Direction
This activity is a slight twist on Chinese Whispers in that it uses a complex set of instructions rather than just a sentence. And here, we have only one link rather than an entire chain of people. Otherwise, the idea is identical—information gets misinterpreted thanks to noise, but we can improve our verbal communication and listening skills to minimize this risk.
First, pick a game with enough instructions that the information is a challenge to memorize. With 2+ co-workers, pick one person (a speaker) to whom you’ll explain the instructions. They are responsible for passing the information on to the rest of their team. The group then needs to play the game with only the instructions from the speaker.
Once they’ve finished the game, start some dialogue about what happened:
- Was there any lack of clarity around the instructions?
- What might have contributed to this confusion?
- What are some key things to be aware of when we give or listen to instructions?
This activity comes from The Wrecking Yard of Games and Activities (Amazon).
Here’s an exercise on the pivotal role of clarification. When it comes to tasks and expectations, it goes without saying that clarity helps us avoid lots of unwanted things. And clarity plays a role on a larger scale when it comes to our roles more broadly, in fact, it’s a psychological resource under the Job Demands-Resources model (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007).
Succinctly, ambiguity contributes to stress, and clarity is empowering—something that is easy to overlook and which this game reminds us of.
Any number of co-workers can participate in this very simple mime game. You’ll need a list of topics for people to act out, then invite players to break off into groups of two. In these pairs, they will take turns being a mime and being an asker. The mime reads the card, then attempts to act out what’s on it (you’ll first need to decide on a theme, like weather, activities, or what have you).
While the asker can pose questions, the mime can only act out their answers.
It might unearth an awareness of implicit assumptions, bringing our conscious attention to the role these play in our judgments. Potential discussion questions will help you unpack this further:
- How did your questioning skills help you comprehend what was going on?
- What value do questioning skills have when we’re trying to understand others?
- What factors sometimes prevent us from asking questions when they might actually be useful?
3. Let’s Face It
This exercise from The Big Book of Conflict-Resolution Games is about self-awareness. How large of a role does it really play, and how does it influence our communication?
There is no limit to the group size for this game, which requires only enough pens and paper for everybody. It doesn’t take very long, either, and can be played in as little as ten to twenty minutes—perfect for breaking up the day.
Start with groups (or sub-groups) of between four and ten players; in each of these, someone will need to volunteer as a facilitator. This facilitator simply keeps the game on track and gets the discussion going afterward.
Each player writes down a feeling on a small piece of paper, folds it, then passes it to the volunteer facilitator. From him or her, they take another piece that someone else has written, and tries to act out that feeling to the rest of their group—using only their facial expressions. The other participants try to guess that emotion and this should lead to a talk about the role of expressions. Useful discussion points include:
- What feelings do we understand the easiest, when only facial expressions are used? Why might that be?
- Describe some contexts where facial expressions play a particularly important role in communication?
- In what ways can facial expressions influence our ability to deal with misunderstandings?
3 Active Listening Games and Exercises for the Workplace
Through active listening, we can enhance our understanding of other people’s perspectives (Drollinger et al., 2006). Practicing it during our interactions with others enables us to validate their feelings and potentially avoid the stress of misunderstandings.
Exercises that boost our active listening skills help us engage better, through empathy, body language, and non-judgment where required (Rogers & Farson, 1957).
At the end of the day, active listening games can impact positively on our relationships by encouraging us to practice specific techniques, and these, in turn, find support in the empirical literature (Weger et al., 2014).
1. Concentric Circles
This large group exercise works best when you already have a topic for discussion. It is used a lot during inclusive strategy sessions, where diverse opinions are valuable but team size can hamper rather than facilitate good communication. For this exercise, everybody has a handout that summarizes the goals of the discussion.
Two circles of chairs are set up, one inside the other. Participants who sit in the middle are ‘talkers’ while those in the outer ring are ‘watchers’, and these roles should be allocated prior to the exercise. Armed with their handouts, talkers begin to engage with the topic. They use the goals as a guide for the conversation, while the watchers listen carefully and make notes.
After fifteen minutes of discussion, the watchers and talkers switch circles—those who were listening before now sit on the inner circle for a fifteen-minute conversation. It can be on the pre-chosen topic or on a different one, but the activity must conclude with a debrief.
During this debrief, they reflect collectively on the experience itself:
- How was being a watcher, compared to being a listener?
- What did you feel when you were observing from the outer circle, listening but not contributing? How did this influence your learnings, rather than providing your own input?
- In what ways did being a watcher impact your perspectives of the talkers? What about their dynamics?
This gamestorming communications exercise is based on a team coaching technique by Time To Grow Global.
2. 3-minute Vacation
Here is another talker and listener exercise that can be done in pairs. In a larger group of participants, this can be done multiple times as players pair up with different conversation partners. And in each pair, of course, team members will take turns being listener and talker.
The talker discusses their dream vacation for three minutes, describing what they would like best about it but without specifying where it should be. While they talk, the listener pays close attention to the explicit and underlying details, using only non-verbal cues to show that they are listening.
After the 3-minute vacation, the listener summarizes the key points of their conversation partner’s dream vacation—as a holiday sales pitch. After they’ve ‘pitched’ the ideal vacation spot in the space of a few minutes, the pair discuss how accurately the listener understood the talker.
They outline how they could improve their dialogue with regard to active listening, then swap roles. A twist on this team coaching exercise might involve allowing the listener to make notes during the talker’s description, revealing them as a point of discussion only after they deliver the ‘sales pitch’.
Used with permission from Time To Grow Global.
3. Pet Peeve
How about a chance to blow off some steam and get that empathetic listening ear at the same time? And at the same time, helping your co-worker practice active listening?
In this game, one colleague has a full 60 seconds to rant about something which irks them. It’s best if this isn’t inappropriate for the workplace, but at the same time, it doesn’t have to be work-related. If you hate pop-up ads, for instance, you’ve already got great material for your rant.
The first colleague (Player A) simply lets loose while the second person (Player B) listens carefully, trying to cut through the noise by singling out:
- What Player A really cares about – for instance, smooth user experience on the internet;
- What they value – e.g. clarity and transparent advertisements;
- What matters to them – e.g. getting work done, doing their online shopping in peace, or a more intuitive, user-friendly adblocker.
Player B then ‘decodes’ the rant by repeating it back to Player A, isolating the key positive points without the fluff or negativity. They can use some variant on the following sentence stems to guide their decoding:
- “You value…”
- “You care about…”
- “You believe that…matters a lot”
Then, they can switch over and repeat the game again. As you can probably see, the activity is aimed at helping teammates appreciate that feedback has positive goals.
3 Team Building Communication Games and Exercises
When we give attention to our relationships as well as the task(s) at hand, we create trust and collaborate more effectively. The games and exercises in this section are about connecting on a human level so that we can communicate with more emotional intelligence in the workplace.
1. Personal Storytelling
In large organizations especially, we may only bring a part of ourselves to the workplace. If we want to communicate empathetically and build relationships with co-workers—important social resources—personal storytelling is one way we can build our teams while developing communication skills.
There is no set time or place for storytelling, but it works best when a story is followed by an invitation to the group to give input. Feel free to use the CCSG technique described earlier in this article, and that the speaker uses a reflective tone, rather than purely informative, when addressing the group.
To try out personal storytelling, set aside a team-building afternoon, meeting, or workshop. Ask the group to each prepare a reading that they will share. Here are some ideas that nicely blend the emotional with the professional:
- Tell the group what your dreams are as a team member, for the company, or for the community (e.g. Whitney & Cooperrider, 2011);
- Tell them about your first job, or your very first working experience;
- If you’ve got a budget, give team members a small amount of money each to do something good with. Then, let them share the story of what they did with it;
- When onboarding new people, invite the group to bring in an object which symbolizes their wishes for the new team member. Then, let them share the story behind the object.
2. I’m Listening
We learn from our peers’ feedback, and that learning is most productive in a supportive work environment (Odom et al., 1990; Goh, 1998). Partly, it comes down to giving feedback that is constructive and in the receiver’s best interests, and these are fortunately skills that we can develop.
I’m Listening can be played with an even number of participants, as they will need to find a partner for this one-on-one game. In the book mentioned below, there are also hand-outs, but you can prepare your own for this activity. Ideally, more than one ‘Talker Scenario’ and more than one ‘Listener Scenario’:
- A ‘Talker Scenario’ will describe something like a bad day at work, or a problem with a client. In a small paragraph, it should outline what’s gone wrong (maybe it’s everything from a cracked smartphone screen to a delay during your commute). This scenario is followed by an instruction for the Talker to play a role: “You call up your colleague for some support” or “You decide to let off some steam by talking to your co-worker”.
- A ‘Listener Scenario’ is a bit different. In several sentences, the scenario outlines a situation where they are approached by a colleague with problems but might have other things on their plate. They might be up to their ears in work, or their colleague’s complaints might seem trivial. After reading the scenario of their context (e.g. it’s a hectic day, your computer’s just crashed), the Listener’s role is to act it out while they respond, for example: “Show with your body language that you’re far too busy”.
The exercise is a good starting point for a conversation about constructive listening strategies. Together, the pairs can come up with more productive, empathetic, and appropriate responses, with the acting experience fresh in mind. Some discussion points include:
- As Talker, what feedback did your Listener appear to give?
- How did you feel about the feedback you received?
- How might you create some listening and feedback approaches based on this?
This game comes from The Big Book of Conflict-Resolution Games (Amazon).
3. “A What?”
Inspired by the kid’s game Telephone, this exercise draws on different elements of effective communication between team members, while highlighting where things often go wrong. It works with any sized team and requires only a facilitator and some novel objects that can be passed between participants. So, plush toys, tennis balls, or similar—but the more imaginative they are, the better.
Players stand in a circle and pass two of the objects along to each other. One object should be passed clockwise, and the other counter-clockwise. Prior to passing on the toy, ball, or what have you, players ask something about the object and answer a question about it.
Essentially, the message will change as the object gets passed along, and players will need to stay sharp to remember who they are passing and talking to.
- The facilitator starts out by handing one of the items to the person on their right, saying “Ellen, this is a tattered elephant with pink ears.”
- Ellen then needs to ask “A What?”, prompting you to repeat the item’s name.
- Taking the item, Ellen turns to her right and repeats the same with Pedro: “Pedro, this is a tattered elephant with pink ears.” Pedro asks, “A What?”
- Before she passes the item to Pedro, however, Ellen’s answer to his question must come back to the facilitator, who says it aloud. This way, it’s possible to see if and how the message changes as it goes around the group. By the time it reaches Hassan, who is Person 5, for instance, it might be “A grey elephant with tattered ears.”
- Once people get the gist of how to play with one item, the facilitator adds in the second by passing it to the left.
Debrief with a chat about the communication that went on. Did anybody end up with both items at once? How did they cope? Did others help them?
Other questions include:
- How did communication look with a longer or shorter chain? Where was the weakest link, and why?
- In what ways did players support each other?
- How did you feel during the game? What was the impact of that emotion on you and on others?
This exercise comes from a Teambuilding Facilitation Manual: A Guide to Leading and Facilitating Teambuilding Activities, by Penn State University.
3 Communication Exercises and Activities for Groups
A lot of team situations are about creativity. We each have unique experiences, competencies, and viewpoints, the way we collaborate inevitably decides whether we synergize or fall flat. Here are two activities that will help your team work together creatively to solve a problem, as well as one about the role of silence.
1. Crazy Comic
This is a fun game in communication skills that will also give team members some creative freedom. They will need to communicate those creative ideas to one another, but also engage in joint decision-making for the activity to be a success. And that activity is to create a comic together, using their complementary skills and communication to realize a shared vision.
You’ll need more than 9 participants for this activity, as well as paper, drawing, and coloring materials for each colleague. From your larger group of co-workers, let them form smaller groups of about 3-6 participants and tell them their task is to produce a unique comic strip, with one frame from each person. So, a 6-person group will make a 6-frame strip, and so forth.
Between them, they need to decide the plot of the comic, who will be carrying out which tasks, and what the frames will contain. The catch is that they all need to draw at the same time, so they will not be seeing the preceding frame in the strip. Make it extra-hard if you like, by instructing them not to look at one another’s creative progress as they draw, either.
Afterward, trigger some discussion about the way they communicated; some example questions include:
- How critical was communication throughout this exercise?
- What did you find the toughest about this activity?
- Why was it important to make the decisions together?
This exercise was adapted from 104 Activities that build (Amazon).
2. Blindfold Rope Square
This is similar in some ways to the Back-to-Back Drawing exercise above. That is, the Blindfold Rope Square exercise challenges us to look at how we communicate verbally, then think about ways to develop our effectiveness. In a large group of participants or employees, particularly, we often need to cut through the noise with a clear and coherent message—and this game can be played with even a large group of people.
You will need about ten meters of rope and a safe place for employees to walk around blindfolded in. So, flat and ideally with no walls or tripping hazards.
- Explain first up that the goal of the task is effective verbal communication, and give each participant a blindfold.
- Once they have gathered in your chosen ‘safe space’, invite them to put on their blindfolds and turn around a few times so they are (reasonably) disoriented in the space.
- Coil the rope and put it where at least one participant can reach it, then explain that you’ve put the rope ‘somewhere on the floor’.
- Tell them their shared aim is to collaborate: first to find the rope, then to lay it out into a perfect square together on the floor.
- Let the participants go about it, taking care not to let any accidents occur. Tell them to let you know once they’ve agreed that the job is done.
- Finally, everybody removes their blindfolds, and it’s time for feedback. This is the perfect opportunity to congratulate them or start a discussion about what they might do differently the next time around.
Find more information on the exercise here.
3. Zen Counting
Silence is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it gives us a chance to reflect, in others it creates a space for others to take the floor. Nonetheless, we’re often inclined to view it as awkward—a gap to be filled or avoided—rather than a chance to listen. According to Shannon and Weaver’s Theory of Communication (1998), this simply creates more ‘noise’ and negatively impacts our ability to reach resolutions at work (Smith, 2018).
Zen counting is incredibly straightforward: team members simply sit in a circle but face outward. With nobody in particular starting first, they are asked to count from one to ten as a group, but each member can only say one number. Nothing else is said. When someone repeats or interrupts another group member, they start again from one.
The idea is to facilitate a sense of ‘okayness’ with being uncomfortable and silent, while team members practice letting others speak.
A Take-Home Message
Imagine attending a communication workshop, in purely lecture format. Or, reading about how to communicate without actually trying what you learn. Communication exercises may not feel 100% natural at first, but they let us work with—rather than live in fear of—that discomfort. Whether it’s Chinese Whispers or making a rope square blindfolded, we can shake up old habits and create new ones by stepping into our ‘stretch zones’.
Try out activities that are best suited to your organizational goals so they have the most relevance. If you’re focused on innovation, try a creative communication exercise like Mime. If you’re a cross-functional team, why not try out an activity that challenges assumptions?
Tell us if any of these are particularly useful, and let us know if you’ve got tweaks for this current set of activities. What has worked in the past for your team?
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Communication Exercises (PDF) for free.
- Bakker, A.B. & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22, 309-328.
- Bakker, A. B., Schaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., & Taris, T. W. (2008). Work engagement: An emerging concept in occupational health psychology. Work & Stress, 22(3), 187-200.
- Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.
- Depaulo, B. M., & Friedman, H. S. (1998). Nonverbal communication. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (pp. 3-40). New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.
- Drollinger, T., Comer, L. B., & Warrington, P. T. (2006). Development and validation of the active empathetic listening scale. Psychology & Marketing, 23(2), 161-180.
- Edmondson, A. C., Kramer, R. M., & Cook, K. S. (2004). Psychological safety, trust, and learning in organizations: A group-level lens. Trust and distrust in organizations: Dilemmas and approaches, 12, 239-272.
- Goh, S. C. (1998). Toward a learning organization: The strategic building blocks. SAM Advanced Management Journal, 63, 15-22.
- Haertel, C., McWilliams, J., & Ma, R. (2005). Developing emotional intelligence in high potential middle managers: The role of experiential learning. In EURAM Conference, Munich, Germany.
- Knapp, M. L., Hall, J. A., & Horgan, T. G. (2013). Nonverbal communication in human interaction. Cengage Learning.
- Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT Press.
- Leary, T. (2004). Interpersonal diagnosis of personality: A functional theory and methodology for personality evaluation. Wipf and Stock Publishers.
- Maguire, P., & Pitceathly, C. (2002). Key communication skills and how to acquire them. British Medical Journal, 325(7366), 697-700.
- Nikolova, N., Clegg, S., Fox, S., Bjørkeng, K., & Pitsis, T. (2013). Uncertainty reduction through everyday performative language work: the case of coaching. International Studies of Management & Organization, 43(3), 74-89.
- Odom, R. Y., Boxx, W. R., & Dunn, M. G. (1990). Organizational cultures, commitment, satisfaction, and cohesion. Public Productivity & Management Review, 157-169.
- Rogers, C. R., & Farson, R. E. (1957). Active listening. Industrial Relations Center of the University of Chicago.
- Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition and personality, 9(3), 185-211.
- Shannon, C. E. (1998). Communication in the presence of noise. Proceedings of the IEEE, 86(2), 447-457.
- Smith, K. (2018). Silence: The Secret Communication Tool. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/silence-the-secret-communication-tool/
- Tomasulo, D. J., & Pawelski, J. O. (2012). Happily ever after: The use of stories to promote positive interventions. Psychology, 3(12), 1189.
- Weger Jr, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.
- Whitney, D., & Cooperrider, D. (2011). Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution in change. ReadHowYouWant. com.
- Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330(6004), 686-688.