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35 communication games for effective, empathetic teams

Effective communication is a vital aspect of our working lives. When communication is open, honest, and effective, our working relationships are richer and more satisfying. When this breaks down, it can create friction, misunderstandings, and disconnection – leading to an ultimately unproductive workplace.

Communication games and exercises like those below can make all the difference in promoting good communication in the workplace and help us feel closer and more connected to those we work with. Try running these activities in any group that wants to communicate more effectively, be better listeners and improve their interpersonal relations.

You’ll find communication games and techniques sorted by category with some tips on when and how to use them in your interpersonal and workplace communications. Let’s dive in!

Why is communication in the workplace important? 

Effective communication is a vital aspect of a high-performing team. With good workplace communication, teams can more effectively align on what’s important, feel connected, and effectively achieve their goals. Communication skills like active listening, honesty, radical candor, and respect can help your team create strong working relationships, be more productive and feel happier too! 

Without effective communication, problems like team siloing, misalignment, employee unhappiness and more are likely to surface. Something as simple as an unsent email or a bad Zoom meeting can be what makes a campaign fail or a team become unproductive. Working to improve team communication can be transformative for your interpersonal relationships, whatever your role or workplace!

What are the benefits of effective workplace communication?

The benefits of good workplace communication are numerous and extend beyond meetings, interpersonal communications, and emails. With strong communication skills and a considered effort to improve communication between both teams and individuals, you can see some of the following benefits:

  • Better conflict management and conflict mitigation
  • A more connected and resilient team
  • Improved surfacing of problems and challenges
  • More productive and engaged teams
  • Supercharged innovation and ideation
  • Help cross functional teams work together effectively
  • Improved employee happiness and satisfaction
  • A culture of trust, openness and radical candour
  • Knowledge and skill sharing
  • Better relationships and improved empathy
  • More effective, fit-for-purpose solutions
  • Highly aligned and driven teams

How to be a better communicator?

Learning to be a better communicator takes time and practice, but there are many small steps you can take to swiftly improve the quality of your interactions and become a better communicator both in and out of work.

In addition to the communication techniques and activities outlined below, here are a few communication tips and concepts that can help you have more productive conversations and interactions.

Be a more active listener

Active listening is a technique of being truly present while someone else is speaking, maintaining focus, and trying to understand the deeper meaning behind what is being said.

In practice, this means being mindful of body language, not jumping to conclusions or forming counterarguments before first taking time to carefully listen and understand their position.

Start by trying to give whoever is speaking your full attention and understand what they’re saying but what is behind their words too. You might be surprised at how much better your workplace communication goes with a simple adjustment to how you listen. Try practicing active listening as a group with the activity from Hyper Island too!

Acknowledge and validate how the other person is feeling

Communication breakdowns often occur when we feel the other person isn’t trying to understand where we are coming from or our feelings don’t feel validated. Take the time to acknowledge how the other person is feeling, try repeating what they have said, and acknowledge how the situation has affected them. When we feel heard and seen, it can be a powerful part of meaningful communications.

For example, if a colleague feels aggrieved because of how a management decision has affected their team, it’s important that their manager tries to understand their position and acknowledge how they feel ahead of moving forward. You will also find that by working to acknowledge and validate the other persons’ feelings, you become more empathetic and understanding too.

Be more honest and open

Being honest and open with your friends, family, and colleagues is an important part of being a good communicator. By sharing your feelings honestly with your colleagues, you can build trust that allows for deeper and more meaningful conversations.

When we talk to one another from a place of honesty, we can surface problems more effectively and develop solutions that actually work. Being clear and honest about how we feel and how things affect us means any next steps are fit for purpose and we feel more seen as a result too.

Ask for what you really need

Have you ever been frustrated when asking a colleague or partner for something and they didn’t get it quite right? The problem might be in how you’ve articulated your needs. Being clear about exactly what you need to help complete a task or understand a situation means you can have more productive conversations and have our needs met efficiently.

On the flipside, try asking colleagues for specific requests and what they need from you in concrete terms. It can be equally frustrating to prepare material for a meeting that isn’t necessary, or to misunderstand what is being asked of you as an employee. Ask for clarity in what people need from you and try to be more clear in exactly what you need from others – the results in improving communication can be massive!

Aim for brevity

Overcomplication, long speeches, and meandering requests can result in poor communication that leaves both parties frustrated. When making a request or sharing an idea, try to keep it brief and sum up the main points in as few words as possible. It’s much easier to understand a person and meet their needs if they are concise and get to the point.

When writing an email or thinking about how to share how you’re feeling with a colleague, try boiling down what you want to say to its key points and what is most important. By aiming for brevity and practicing getting your ideas across efficiently, you’ll see benefits across many modes of communication, inside and out of work!

Keep people in the loop

Whether you’re working across teams or communicating with your partner, it’s important to keep people up to date and in the loop.

Simply put, being an effective communicator is about actually communicating and telling people what is going on. Think about what people might need to know before a meeting before attending, or if a campaign deadline is going to be missed, let those colleagues whose work might be affected know. Keep it brief and clear, but don’t leave people in the dark. This helps build trust, transparency, and better lines of communication in the future too.

Ask better questions

Being a great communicator often means thinking about what it would mean for a conversation to be successful and working to achieve that. Asking the right questions and working to better understand the other person’s position or the situation at hand is key when it comes to having more productive conversations.

If you are trying to help a colleague figure out the next step in their career, you might ask questions to understand their needs, aspirations, and what they most enjoy doing before suggesting a path. Rushing to find a resolution without first asking those questions might otherwise leave both parties frustrated.

During difficult discussions, try to consider which questions are important and which might be difficult for the other person. No one likes to feel like they’re being interrogated, and asking better questions often means finding a way to phrase a question respectfully and carefully.

Do your research

Preparation is an important part of good workplace communication. If you want to be a better communicator, be sure to do the necessary research for whatever conversation you are about to engage in. If you’re talking to the design team about customer feedback on a new feature, you should know what that feedback is before the meeting. If you are briefing a new workplace benefit to your team, it’s important you know the subject well enough to answer questions effectively and communicate the subject efficiently.

Sloppy communication can often be the result of someone being unprepared or simply not knowing what they’re talking about deeply enough. Don’t get caught out in this way and do you research!

Communication games to promote better listening 

Better communication starts with learning to listen. Particularly in our working relationships, a failure to listen effectively can be the root cause of many strained conversations and misunderstandings.

Learning to listen means being more present, trying to understand what other people are trying to communicate, and empathizing with their position.

Whether it’s everyday meetings or team building sessions, learning to listen can be swiftly transformative for groups of all shapes and sizes. The communication activities below are a great place to start on your journey to being a better listener, so let’s get started!

Best Summary

In many cases, better workplace communication begins by paying closer attention to our colleagues, whether that’s on Zoom, over email, or in real life. Best Summary is a great communication exercise for teaching the value of paying attention, taking notes when necessary, and listening more actively. 

Start by preparing a presentation into several logical units. After the first unit, distribute index cards and ask each participant to summarise the presentation so far. Next, sort everyone into teams and have each team pass their summary cards to the next group to evaluate and rate. 

Once the best summaries have been decided, offer feedback on key points and then continue the presentation. Follow this with another summary and evaluation step so everyone can quickly and effectively use the feedback from the first round to improve their listening and summarization skills. 

Best Summary #thiagi #debriefing #closing #presentation #action 

Asking listeners to summarize your presentation from time to time is a good technique for encouraging people to listen carefully, take notes, and to review the content. Best Summaries uses this basic concept.

Active Listening

Whether you’re a practiced active listener or not, using the method with a practical communication activity is important in building the skill and ensuring you really live the values of active listening in your workplace. In this communication method from Hyper Island, start by introducing the idea that when we listen to others, we often do so without giving our full attention. 

Split participants into groups of three so they can each explore the roles of subject, active listener, and observer while working on a common problem or topic. By ensuring each group member experiences all three roles and reflecting on their experience, you can help your team improve workplace communication with better listening and presence in communication. 

Active Listening #hyperisland #skills #active listening #remote-friendly 

This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.

Spread the Word

When trying to impart the practical benefits of being a better listener to a group, it can help to show how active listening can help prepare us for follow-up tasks. With this communication game, begin by sharing a short 10-20 minute presentation with your team. Next, invite small groups to independently prepare a 3-minute presentation on the key points from your presentation for a specific audience such as 7-year-old children, engineers, or volunteers. 

This is also a great way to impart other aspects of effective communication to a group, such as the need to tailor content for an audience and bring concision to what we’re discussing. Be sure to debrief effectively and highlight how teams that listened carefully were better able to summarise key points and deliver effective presentations.

Spread the Word #thiagi #presentation #skills 

Asking the participants to summarize the key points from a lecture is an effective way to strengthen their understanding and recall.

Team of Two 

Whether it’s at home or at work, many of our closest and most important relationships are between us and one other person. When communication with that person becomes strained, it can affect our personal and working life in a profound way. Team of Two is a communication exercise designed to explicitly help two people work and communicate together more effectively. Improving your communication skills through the lens of a single person-to-person relationship can make the process more approachable and instantly gratifying. Be sure to give it a go!

Team of Two #communication #active listening #issue analysis #conflict resolution #issue resolution #remote-friendly #team 

Much of the business of an organisation takes place between pairs of people. These interactions can be positive and developing or frustrating and destructive. You can improve them using simple methods, providing people are willing to listen to each other.

“Team of two” will work between secretaries and managers, managers and directors, consultants and clients or engineers working on a job together. It will even work between life partners.

Communication activities to improve honesty and openness

Good communication is all about finding ways to be open and honest while staying productive, respectful, and empathetic toward others. These communication techniques are designed to help everyone in a group communicate their needs, concerns, and challenges with a framework that promotes cohesion and trust. 

Finding ways to be more open and honest is key when it comes to solving organizational problems and these activities can be helpful in encouraging these values in your team. 

Appreciative Interviews

When trying to move past a problem or communication block, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of focusing on the negative elements and what went wrong. Appreciative Interviews is a great method to solving problems by starting from a point of exploring previous successes in pairs. 

Each person tells a story about a time they worked on a challenge and were proud of the outcome. Each partner then takes turns interviewing the other to discover why that situation was a success. Afterward, groups of four retell their partner’s story and listen for patterns and insight the group might use or learn from in the future.  Not only is this communication activity great for surfacing solutions positively, but it also encourages active listening, empathy and openness within a team. 

Appreciative Interviews (AI) #issue analysis #liberating structures #storytelling 

In less than one hour, a group of any size can generate the list of conditions that are essential for its success. You can liberate spontaneous momentum and insights for positive change from within the organization as “hidden” success stories are revealed. Positive movement is sparked by the search for what works now and by uncovering the root causes that make success possible.

Groups are energized while sharing their success stories instead of the usual depressing talk about problems. Stories from the field offer social proof of local solutions, promising prototypes, and spread innovations while providing data for recognizing success patterns. You can overcome the tendency of organizations to underinvest in social supports that generate success while overemphasizing financial support, time, and technical assistance.

What will you tell who about what made your day today?

If workplace communication has become difficult there are things we might tell one person about how we’re feeling but not others. Think about workplace issues that you don’t feel you can share with your boss, but then discuss with your partner or friends outside of work. Often, after talking about a workplace challenge with someone outside of work, we then feel ready to talk about it inside of work. 

This communication activity utilizes this effect by asking a group to reflect on what they would say about a meeting, workshop or challenge and who they would say it to. By employing this framework, a group can not only concretize their learnings for the day but also consider how they communicate to different people. Often, we are more open and honest with some people than others when debriefing an event. By touching on this as a group, we can think about how we might communicate more openly with those people who most need it.   

What will you tell who about what made your day today? #closing #commitment #prepare for action #communication #celebrating #feedback 

At the end of a meeting, participants have to go back to their boss, organization, community or family. There they’ll asked a question like “what did you do?”. This prepares them to that question, informs them about what others will say – and who   maybe the source of this message and it give them as well as you feedback on the session. It also reinforces commitment.

Stinky Fish

Communication is hard if uncertainties, anxieties or interpersonal issues don’t have space to surface and continue to have an effect on our relationships. Stinky Fish is a framework for sharing issues, creating openness, and finding solutions as a group. As a communication exercise, it’s effective at helping a team get things off their chest constructively and with a view to create solutions rather than attribute blame.

Invite each group to write down their personal stinky fish relating to a core organisational challenge or around the subject of communication or connection. Next, give everyone time to share their fishes with the rest of the group and reflect on the experience. For best results, follow-up with an exercise that helps resolve those issues though bear in mind that finding time and space to share these worries constructively can often have a positive effect in itself! 

Stinky Fish #hyperisland #skills #remote-friendly #issue analysis 

A short activity to run early in a program focused on sharing fears, anxieties and uncertainties related to the program theme. The purpose is to create openness within a group. The stinky fish is a metaphor for “that thing that you carry around but don’t like to talk about; but the longer you hide it, the stinkier it gets.” By putting stinky fish (fears and anxieties) on the table, participants begin to relate to each other, become more comfortable sharing, and identify a clear area for development and learning.

Generative Relationships STAR

When workplace communication is strained, it can feel tough to find a productive way to explore what has affected everyone’s working relationships safely. Communication activities that include a set framework for guiding conversations can help keep things on track and also ensure the group’s psychological safety is maintained. Start by introducing the four points of the star: Separateness, Tuning, Actions and Reasons for working together. 

Ask each person to reflect on where the team is currently at in regards to each of the four points before then sharing these in small groups and find points of consensus and difference. From there, brainstorm actions you can take to improve these points and find those you can make immediately. By ensuring everyone first has a chance to share their feelings openly and be heard, you can help a group communicate effectively and then improve a situation from there.   

Generative Relationships STAR #team #liberating structures #teamwork 

You can help a group of people understand how they work together and identify changes that they can make to improve group performance. All members of the group diagnose current relationship patterns and decide how to follow up with action steps together, without intermediaries. The STAR compass tool helps group members understand what makes their relationships more or less generative. The compass used in the initial diagnosis can also be used later to evaluate progress in developing relationships that are more generative.

Bright Blurry Blind

Organizational silos or feelings of an ‘us and them’ dynamic is anthical to good workplace communication. Building a one-team mentality that helps people interact meaningfully and positively regardless of their department of role. Bright Blurry Blind is a great communication activity that gives employees the chance to speak openly and honestly about concerns and then build a more positive working relationship. 

Start by sharing the three metaphor cards for what is bright, (clear, common knowledge) what is blurry, (known but not spoken about openly) and blind (not known and should be). Have groups arranged by role or department then create a presentation of what is bright, blurry or blind for them and their department to share with the rest of the organization. Follow with some reflection on the process and consider how you can help blind issues surface, what you can do to ensure blurry issues become bright and how to better communicate any concerns between teams in the future. 

Bright Blurry Blind #communication #collaboration #problem identification #issue analysis 

This is an exercise for creating a sense of community, support intra and inter departmental communication and breakdown of “Silos” within organizations. It allows participants to openly speak about current issues within the team and organization.

Communication techniques to improve empathy and understanding

Without empathy and understanding, working with others can prove difficult, if not impossible. Whether it’s how we communicate in the workplace or converse in our interpersonal relationships, it can always be helpful to find ways to empathize with the other person and understand their position. 

If you’re a leader wanting to improve your facilitation skills and figure out how to help your team, empathy and understanding is possibly the best place to start. Let’s get started.

Heard, Seen, Respected 

One of the baselines for effective workplace communication is ensuring that everyone is heard when they try to speak, is seen and recognized in their efforts, and is respected by others. In this activity for communication, start by briefing the purpose: to practice listening without trying to fix anything or make any judgments. Next, break the group into pairs and ask everyone to share a story of a time when they were not heard, seen, or respected. 

By first sharing these stories before moving to groups of four to discuss patterns, your team can effectively see how the concepts of listening and helping people be heard without first rushing to judgement can help everyone communicate better and be more understood. The result is a group that can more effectively empathize and help one another be seen and heard – a surefire way of improving communication in the workplace.

Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR) #issue analysis #empathy #communication #liberating structures #remote-friendly 

You can foster the empathetic capacity of participants to “walk in the shoes” of others. Many situations do not have immediate answers or clear resolutions. Recognizing these situations and responding with empathy can improve the “cultural climate” and build trust among group members. HSR helps individuals learn to respond in ways that do not overpromise or overcontrol. It helps members of a group notice unwanted patterns and work together on shifting to more productive interactions. Participants experience the practice of more compassion and the benefits it engenders.

Understanding Chain

Building shared understanding is fundamental to creating a culture of clear, effective communication. In an organization, it often falls to managers to impart information to the rest of the team and help them understand their position though, without the right approach, this isn’t always effective. 

Understanding Chain is a communication activity designed to help create an audience-first approach to communication. Start by asking a group to think of who they’ll be talking to and invite them to brainstorm questions that the group might ask of them. Next, invite the team to place those in the understanding chain, under one of three headings: situation, complication, or resolution. By first empathizing with an audience and sorting questions into a story chain, your group can effectively understand what they need to present and in what order in order to successfully build understanding. 

Understanding Chain #gamestorming #communication #action 

In the Understanding Chain game, a group shifts from a content focus to an audience focus, and draws out a meaningful, linear structure for communication.

Seven Words

Words have impact. Not only do the words we choose have an effect, but our tone, delivery and where we place stress in our sentences and arguments have an impact too. This activity is based on the concept of thinking about how we say something, alongside thinking about what we say. Start by writing a seven-word sentence about yourself on a flipchart while stressing the “I” of the sentence. Ask the group to comment on the message and meaning that was conveyed by how you said the sentence and collect different interpretations. Follow with pair work where participants write and interpret their own sentences before debriefing as a whole group. 

By asking the group to consider the importance of how we say things as well as reflecting on moments they felt misunderstood, they can better empathize with others and try to create conversations free of possible misinterpretation in the future.  

Seven Words #thiagi #communication #skills #remote-friendly 

Ever heard the cliché, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”? The Seven Words jolt dramatically demonstrates this principle. You demonstrate how the meaning of a sentence changes as you emphasize different words. Later, you invite pairs of participants to explore this concept.

Translated Rant

When passionate people care about something and something goes wrong, this can lead to people feeling upset, hurt, or angry. When this happens, it’s easy to react to the immediate situation instead of trying to understand where they are coming from and help them move forward. This communication game for work is a highly effective way to helping a group better empathize and communicate under conditions of upset or duress. 

Start by asking pairs to work together with one person ranting for sixty seconds on their pet peeve or major annoyance. Next, invite the second person to translate the rant into what the first person cares about, what they value, and what’s important to them. Check to ensure the second person got it right before switching roles and debriefing. By helping a group see what’s behind the rant and focus on what an upset person might care about and value, future conversations, and disagreements can be handled more empathetically and productively. 

Translated Rant #active listening #emotions #values #trust #conflict #introductions #opening #connection 

One person rants for 60 seconds. The second person translates their rant into what they care about and value.

Both Sides

When we receive different sets of advice that might seem contradictory, it might seem that there is a lack of understanding or empathy which can be frustrating. An important aspect of receiving advice and moving forward constructively is understanding that advice is contextual and that even if the advice might seem contradictory or not wholly helpful, the intention of the person is good. 

Both Sides is a communication activity that helps a group explore the advantages and disadvantages of two sets of advice or sides of an argument and reach an understanding that incorporates elements of both. It’s so easy to get ourselves into a position of saying one side is right and the other is wrong, though this isn’t always an empathetic or understanding approach. Try using this activity the next time differences of opinion or advice create a blocker at work. You’ll often find that by seeing both sides, you can help all parties feel more seen and valued while also finding a productive way forward.  

Both Sides #structured sharing #issue analysis #thiagi #team 

Organizational life is full of paradoxes. It looks as if you always get contradictory advice. For example, one manager suggests that all your training should be on the Web. Another manager extols the virtues of classroom teaching. In a situation like this, it is useless to ask, “Which is better: online learning or instructor-led learning?” The answer is invariably, “It all depends.” In the complex real world, the effectiveness of any strategy depends on the context. For example, training effectiveness depends on the content, objectives, learners, technology, and facilitators. In order for you to come up with the best strategy, you must explore the advantages and disadvantages of conflicting guidelines.

That’s what BOTH SIDES helps you to do.

What, So What, Now What?

One of the first steps to improve empathy and understanding at work is being able to see an event free from judgment and from multiple perspectives. This exercise from Liberating Structures is a great framework for reflecting on an event as a group and building mutual understanding without conflict. 

Start by asking individuals to reflect on what happened and what they noticed before discussing why it was important and then finally making suggestions on how to move forward as a team. By surfacing thoughts and feelings objectively and sharing them, a group can better understand an event and its importance in an effort to do better next time. With practice and a considered approach, this communication technique can be your goto activity for debriefings and building team understanding.    

W³ – What, So What, Now What? #issue analysis #innovation #liberating structures 

You can help groups reflect on a shared experience in a way that builds understanding and spurs coordinated action while avoiding unproductive conflict.

It is possible for every voice to be heard while simultaneously sifting for insights and shaping new direction. Progressing in stages makes this practical—from collecting facts about What Happened to making sense of these facts with So What and finally to what actions logically follow with Now What. The shared progression eliminates most of the misunderstandings that otherwise fuel disagreements about what to do. Voila!

Better Connections

Workplace communication can prove difficult if you don’t know your colleagues very well and feel disconnected from your team. Truly getting to know everyone in your team as people and not just because of their role can be what makes all the difference. Better Connections is a communication exercise designed to help a group understand one another as individuals, form better relationships and thus contextualize how we communicate in future situations. 

Start by asking a group to pair up with someone they don’t know too well and rate how connected they are to that person. Next, ask each pair to take three minutes to describe a close relationship with someone they love very much while the other person listens carefully. Debrief afterward and reinforce the point that better connections are formed through sharing, listening, and finding safe ways to communicate in the workplace.   

Better Connections #interpersonal relationships #teambuilding #team #connection #thiagi #get-to-know 

We build a stronger relationship with people when we see them as human beings with whom we share similarities in terms of family and life situations. It is very difficult to form strong relationships with people about whom we know very little. We feel more connected to “full” people. For example, take John, the accountant. If I think of John as an accountant, I might put him into a box of what I think I know about accountants. I might not feel connected to accountants and will treat him accordingly. But when I think of John as a keen mountain climber and outdoor adventurer with two children, one of whom is graduating from university next month, then John becomes human to me, and I can feel connected to him.

Exercises to teach clear communication

Have you ever felt a discussion around a workplace challenge or new project go around and around to the point of being unproductive or frustrating? 

Finding ways to be clear, concise, and stay on topic is a vital communication skill that can help both in and out of the workplace. These communication techniques and activities are effective at not only providing a framework for clear communication but can help teach groups and individuals how to be more clear and concise in the future. A surefire way to help teams be more productive! 

What I Need From You

A common reason for unproductive or frustrating workplace relationships is a lack of clarity in what two parties need from one another. Misalignment or misunderstandings are problems within themselves but can also create further frustration and communication issues. 

What I Need From You is a communication technique that encourages a small group to share their core needs simply and clearly with those affected and then invite the other person to respond with concision. Ensure everyone makes clear, concrete requests and to give clear requests too. By practicing this communication style, your team can fix existing issues and also find better ways to communicate needs and dependencies in the future.    

What I Need From You (WINFY) #issue analysis #liberating structures #team #communication #remote-friendly 

People working in different functions and disciplines can quickly improve how they ask each other for what they need to be successful. You can mend misunderstandings or dissolve prejudices developed over time by demystifying what group members need in order to achieve common goals. Since participants articulate core needs to others and each person involved in the exchange is given the chance to respond, you boost clarity, integrity, and transparency while promoting cohesion and coordination across silos: you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again!

Clear Communication

Some communication concepts are best explored with simple games that allow people to learn and engage while having fun. When it comes to helping a group communicate more clearly, this communication game is a great way of iterating quickly and building on learnings. 

Start by choosing a category of communication skill. Good examples include active listening techniques or purposes of communication. Have small groups each write a clear response to the concept on an index card and then vote for the clearest example (no voting on your own card!). Repeat and reflect to help a team share examples of best communication practices quickly while also learning the value of concision. 

Clear Communication #thiagi #skills #ideation #communication 

In any content area, one difference between a beginner and an expert is the latter’s ability to come up with different examples that belong to the same category. This activity strengthens your ability to come up with examples of communication concepts.

Customer Service Categories 

Clear, effective communication is a staple of great customer service. But learning how to anticipate the needs of others and respond concisely to their requests is helpful whatever your role. 

In this communication game, start with a customer service category such as ‘How to win customer’s trust’ or ‘What customers expect.’ Invite each person in the group to take turns to say an item that belongs to the category while listening to the items supplied to the other players. Ask the group to eliminate any player who hesitates for too long, repeats an item, or offers an item that doesn’t belong to the category. This game is great for encouraging the learning of key communication concepts but also for building core communication skills. 

Customer Service Categories #customer service #improv game #issue analysis #thiagi #idea generation 

Players take turns to supply items that belong to a specific category related to customer service. Any player who hesitates too long, repeats a previous item, or supplies an inappropriate item is eliminated. The last player left standing wins the game.

500-year-gap

Gaps in a group’s shared understanding can be one of the biggest challenges to effective workplace communication. While these gaps are likely to occur when people from different backgrounds and disciplines work together, there are things we can do to close these gaps and facilitate better communication. 

In this communication activity, start by splitting a group into pairs and having one person role-play someone from 500-years-ago. Have one person explain a modern-day object or appliance – such as a mobile phone or airplane – to the person from 500 years ago without telling them what it is. Encourage those people to fully embrace the mindset of someone from the past and ask questions in character. When debriefing, be sure to ask how the group made assumptions in understanding and how they tried to navigate the knowledge gap with concision and clarity. 

500 year gap #active listening #speaking #communication #intercultural communication #empathy #improv #em 

In pairs, one person describes a modern appliance to someone from 500 years ago

Communication games to warm up a team

Improving how a team talks to one another can be hard work. Teaching better communication techniques and improving core communication skills such as active listening is important, but it’s vital you help everyone warm up and arrive in the workshop ready to become a better communicator. 

These games are great ways to demonstrate the power of effective team communication while also helping a group warm up and get to know each other. Let’s take a look!

Stress Balls 

Energizing your team while demonstrating the importance of good communication is a great way to kick-off any team workshop. Stress Balls is a fun communication game that starts simple but can easily get out of control – a good analogy for workplace communication! 

Start by forming a circle with a single stress ball and a rule to pass it along to the left. Over successive rounds, you’ll add more balls with additional rules and debrief how the added complexity impacted the efficacy of the task. Not only is Stress Balls a fun energizer but it can serve as a great introduction to communication skills and concepts you might explore later in the session. 

Stress Balls #energiser #communication #teamwork #team #thiagi #action #ice breaker 

Understanding the importance of communication and teamwork is an important requirement for high performance teams of knowledge workers. This exercise is an effective energizer that requires communication and teamwork. Ask participants to form a circle and throw a ball around to simulate the movement of a message. Change different variables such as speed, quantity, and complexity to create a mess.

Sticks – A Metaphorical Simulation Game

A powerful learning point from any discussion of communication in the workplace is that conversations often feel different for all those involved. While an email, video call, or impromptu meeting might be zero stress for you, it might take a lot of energy for someone else. 

Sticks is a game that can help a group build greater awareness of how our energy levels, intentions and responses can affect workplace communication. Start by asking pairs to hold a stick between them without using their hands. One person is designated to lead the pair around the room or to a destination with the goal of keeping the stick upright without talking. Switch roles before then adding the rule that the person being led must keep their eyes closed. During the debrief, ask everyone to share what they learned about effective communication and what the effects of applying different pressures on their partner were. 

Sticks – A Metaphorical Simulation Game #communication #team #teamwork #action 

When people interact or communicate with each other, they use certain amount of energy or pressure. Here’s an activity that makes participants aware of such energy exchange and helps them explore how to manage this process.

Broken Email

When communication fails, it can be hard for a group or team to pass knowledge or tasks effectively between members. Avoid potential frustration by helping a group learn how to better communicate ideas and pass information on effectively. 

For this communication technique, start by asking small groups to stand in a line. Show the person in the back a simple image and then take it away. That person is then tasked to trace the image on the next person’s back using their finger. Each group does this with the next person in line until the person at the front must then draw the image on a piece of paper. For added fun, add a time limit or give each time a different image. The result is a fun, reflective team game that can help kickstart a session on improving communication in the workplace too! 

Broken Email #communication #collaboration #teampedia #ice breaker #team 

This a simple game in which participants play in teams and their task is to replicate an image shown to the first team member as they are set up in a chain. The winner is the first team to correctly reproduce the “email”

Double Talk

Sometimes, the cause of ineffective communication is simply the fact that people are preoccupied with other thoughts and aren’t fully present in the conversation. Try this communication exercise if you want to jolt a group awake or gently introduce concepts of active listening while having fun. 

Start by putting people into pairs and ask one person to be a listener while the other person plays the role of the IV. While the facilitator gives a short, preferably dry, presentation, ask the IV to whisper distracting thoughts in the listener’s ear. Next, ask the group some questions based on your presentation and reflect on how well they listened. 

Reveal to the group that IV stands for inner voice and debrief on how letting your inner voice distract you while attempting to listen or communicate can lead to frustration or missed insight. Be sure to give kudos to the most creative inner voices for their distractions while debriefing to make this communication game extra memorable!   

Double Talk #energiser #thiagi 

Participants at a training session are often preoccupied with other important things in their life. Here’s a simple jolt to wake them up.

Activities to help identify and improve your communication style

Communication is often more complicated than it first seems. Articulating our needs, listening properly and responding with care takes time and effort and people communicate differently. Learning your communication style and taking steps to become a more effective communicator by being aware of how others communicate can be truly transformative. 

If you or your team find that conflict arises easily or that some members regularly feel unheard or unable to speak, that’s likely a problem with clashing communication styles. While most of the communication techniques in this post can help improve communication generally, it can also be effective to reflect on how our individual communication styles can impact group dynamics. Dedicated effort on this can help unblock unproductive working processes and improve interpersonal relationships in a cinch! Let’s give it a go!

Grounded Assertiveness Communication

Navigating workplace communication successfully means not only identifying how we communicate, but how others do it too. With this exercise, start by introducing sets of cards with the four basic communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. 

Have pairs or small groups then draw a random communication style card and roleplay a scenario using the scenario on the card. When debriefing, be sure to reflect on the tone, energy, and body language generated by each scenario. Learning how different communication styles can impact the openness or productivity of a conversation can be transformative. Be sure to give this game a go if you want a quick and easy way to introduce communication styles to your team.   

Grounded Assertiveness Communication #communication #boldness #openness #body language 

Framework: Consideration for Others x Openness of Communication

Participants practice 4 modes of communication – Aggressive, assertive, passive, passive-aggressive in improv scenario


Yes and Picnic

For some groups, the traditional labels associated with communication styles can be limiting or difficult to get their heads around. Whatever framework you use, the end goal is the same – to help everyone communicate better while understanding that people communicate differently. 

Yes and Picnic is a great workplace communication activity to help show a group how our approach to a conversation can massively impact the outcome. Start by asking pairs to plan an imaginary event together and have four conversations on the subject. One person should enthusiastically want to do the activity while the other person responds with a response ranging from a simple no, to a yes and back and forth. By having each pair use responses that correspond with typical communication styles, they can see how these can impact a conversation and consider how to use them moving forward. 

Yes, and Picnic #improv game #yes, and #active listening #accepting offers #flexibility #specifics #em 

4 conversations about how to listen, acknowledge, and build

Reframing Silence

When working as a team, silence can be interpreted differently by everyone in a group. What might be necessary reflection time for one person might be considered awkward or a sign of non-participation by others. Using a communication activity to reframe silence and help quieter group members contribute is a great way to help a group grow and learn to sit with silence. 

Start by explaining all the ways in which silence can be interpreted, ask for understanding and space, and then gently encourage participation from quieter teammates. When it comes to effective workplace communication, helping everyone be understood while being given a chance to contribute can make all the difference. Try following this exercise with further activities and discussions and challenge the group to be aware of the lessons learned, whatever the workplace context.

From Silence to Vibrance #managing difficulties #group development #online #engagement #team dynamics 

Sometimes a number of people are silent and there is not necessarily a dominant person in the group. This often happens in cultures where being assertive is not valued.

Communication games to improve self awareness 

Some workplaces issues can stem from failing to understand or be aware of the ways in which our actions or communication styles can affect others. Being self-aware when we communicate often means being mindful of how we listen, speak and deliver information, all while also being aware of our own needs, triggers, and sore points. 

As with all communication skills, what might seem easy for one person or situation might not be easy in another. Recognizing that this is an important element of communication and then moving towards improving it is the first step on your communication journey. 

Everyday Hassles

Even the most self-aware of us can often have automatic responses and behaviors which can affect those around us. Think about how getting stuff in traffic might lead to us getting angry without thinking. Does that response actually help or make us feel good? 

This communication game is designed to show us that our automatic responses can be changed and we can improve behaviors that might otherwise affect our workplace relationships. Start by asking small groups to brainstorm alternative, better ways to respond to an annoying situation such as getting stuck in a traffic jam. By then considering alternative responses to a series of hassles and then identifying patterns, your group can each see how we might reconsider our automatic responses and be more self-aware of how we communicate with others.

Everyday Hassles #issue resolution #issue analysis #stress management #thiagi 

It is a great activity to show participants that it is plausible to change our automatic behaviours and reactions to annoying situations.

Lasting Impression Elevator Pitch

Most people know that first impressions have a lasting impact that can make all the difference to how we later communicate. Being aware of how we introduce ourselves and our roles can be crucial at improving both our careers and workplace relationships. 

This exercise from Thiagi Group asks participants to prepare an elevator pitch for quickly describing themselves, their role and interests. By workshopping and reflecting on how they’ve presented themselves to others, your group will be more self aware in future communications. Plus, they’ll learn a valuable skill in being able to discuss themselves and their role with efficiency and clarity. Perfect when it comes to working with others and communicating better at work!

Lasting Impression Elevator Pitch #communication #elevator pitch #thiagi #skills #action 

How do you explain what you do to someone you meet for the first time and make a lasting impression? Being able to explain what you do may result in a career spurt—or at least help you avoid some embarrassment. Participants write a short pitch they can use to introduce themselves to clients or new acquaintances or to make unscheduled presentations. Later, they have the pitch critiqued and improved using a three-part rating system.

Blame or Praise 

A large part of using self awareness to be a better communicator is in gaining knowledge of how we can interpret situations because of preexisting conditions. This communication game is another great method for helping a group develop workplace awareness. Start by distributing the two different versions of the blame or praise handout among the group and ask them to record their responses. 

Both versions of the handout explain how a company chairman’s decisions either had a positive or negative effect on an outcome. Crucially, each handout differs in regards to whether the chairman intended the outcome to happen or not. By reflecting as a group, we can learn to separate intentions from outcomes and practically examine how certain conditions can impact how we perceive and communicate with others. 

Blame or Praise #decision making #communication #thiagi #issue analysis 

This exercise is based on Joshua Knobe’s experiments on intentional activity and side effects. It explores how a person’s intentions affect our decision to assign blame or praise to a behaviour. Participants work with two different versions of the same situation. One version focuses on a harmful side effect of a decision, while the other deals with a helpful side effect. The debriefing discussion explores how we are more willing to blame for harmful side effects than praise for helpful side effects.

Social Virus

We’ve all been caught up in workplaces where positive or negative feelings have spread through the team. By considering how our emotions can be transmitted through a group, we can start to practice a greater degree of self-awareness and control in all of our workplace communications. 

Start by choosing one person at random to be the infector general, whose job it is to infect other people in the group with a negative facial expression. Once infected, a player’s role is to try and infect three other people. After a negative round, switch it up to a positive infection. Communication games like Social Virus are great for teaching concepts in a fun, memorable way while also inviting self-awareness. Try it at your next team meeting as part of a broader conversation on group communication for even better results!

Social Virus #emotional intelligence #positive psychology #teamwork #thiagi #action #issue analysis 

We all know how quickly the cold or flu can spread through the office, but we don’t often think about how contagious our emotions can be. This exercise provides a brief simulation of how quickly both negative and positive emotions can be transmitted. One participant is selected to be the Negative Infector General and asked to infect others with a negative emotion. During the next round, you pretend to select another participant to be the Positive Infector General. At the end of the second round, participants are surprised to find out that they became more positive even though no one initiated the emotion.

Playing with Status

Organizations aren’t flat. Sometimes, communication between people at differing levels of seniority or expertise can feel tough because of this imbalance, but it doesn’t have to be! Playing with Status is a communication game where pairs roleplay a simple workplace situation multiple times with different levels of status. 

Being aware of how power dynamics can not only affect how others speak to you but how you might speak to them can be transformative when it comes to improving communication at work. When we’re made to feel inferior in status or are simply unempathetic to how status affects others, the result can be damaging. Don’t let this be the case in your organization!  

Playing with Status #teambuilding #communication #team #thiagi 

Participants are given a short script of 8-10 lines of neutral dialogue. The scene may depict a job interview (see the sample below) or a coaching session. Pairs take turns enacting the scene, playing with the status relationships through non-verbal behaviours.

Communication techniques for giving feedback

All teams have times when they need to reflect, debrief and share feedback. Done correctly, it’s one of the best ways to improve group dynamics and be more effective in your working practices. Done incorrectly, poorly delivered feedback or unfocused discussion on what went wrong can do more harm than good. These communication activities are designed to help a group give better, more focused feedback that helps everyone share how they feel in a productive manner.

Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue

Effective communication is all about concision and empathy, though when teams come to giving one another feedback, that can often go out of the window. Communication frameworks such as this exercise are great for helping groups have productive feedback sessions that build trust and openness. 

Have small groups work to write feedback to each other using a simple start, stop and continue structure. By filling in the gaps in set sentences, each person is able to deliver consistent feedback that is simple and useful to everyone. Finish by having each person deliver feedback verbally and then handing the post-it to the person addressed. You’ll find that feedback is not only more effectively transmitted but also received, and without the potential for as many difficult, unproductive discussions. 

Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue #hyperisland #skills #feedback #remote-friendly 

Regular, effective feedback is one of the most important ingredients in building constructive relationships and thriving teams. Openness creates trust and trust creates more openness. Feedback exercises aim to support groups to build trust and openness and for individuals to gain self-awareness and insight. Feedback exercises should always be conducted with thoughtfulness and high awareness of group dynamics. This is an exercise for groups or teams that have worked together for some time and are familiar with giving and receiving feedback. It uses the words “stop”, “start” and “continue” to guide the feedback messages.

Principles of Effective Feedback

Outcomes and frameworks shaped by a group are often more effective than those simply given to them. What works for one team might not work for another, and this communication exercise is all about coming up with a set of rules for giving feedback that is bespoke and designed by the team that will use it. 

Start by working in pairs to give examples of when they have received effective and ineffective feedback. As a group, you’ll then brainstorm principles of effective and ineffective feedback and agree on a set to use in feedback sessions moving forward. By finishing with a discussion of how to ensure these principles are followed, you can have more meaningful and productive communications around feedback. You’ll also have a readily usable resource for the future! 

Principles of Effective Feedback #hyperisland #skills #feedback 

The purpose of this exercise is for a group to discuss, define, and come to agreement around key principles of effective feedback. Participants discuss examples of effective and ineffective feedback in pairs, then work together to define “effective feedback.” Then, as a group, they create a list of principles that they will aim to work by.

One Breath Feedback

Unfocused communication can be frustrating and unproductive for all involved, especially when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. Some people might feel intimidated when giving feedback at the end of a session or alternatively, someone might continue speaking long after their point has been made. 

Avoid these situations and create a more productive, concise feedback culture with this communication exercise. Simply ask your group to give feedback using just a single breath – often just 20-30 seconds per person. By clearly outlining this rule in advance, your team will also have to carefully consider what they might say too – a great result for any workplace communication! 

One breath feedback #closing #feedback #action 

This is a feedback round in just one breath that excels in maintaining attention: each participants is able to speak during just one breath … for most people that’s around 20 to 25 seconds … unless of course you’ve been a deep sea diver in which case you’ll be able to do it for longer.

In conclusion 

Strong, effective communication in the workplace is crucial for effective teams, though, without considered effort, it can become problematic. 

We know that when group communication breaks down or is in need of improvement, it can be difficult to know where to begin. By using communication techniques, you and your group can find a framework for moving forward and build better team connections too!

Have a favorite exercise or found a particular method that has helped improve the way your team works together? Found a great way to improve communication skills and have fun while doing it? Sound off in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!

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