Instant role-playing is a technique that you can fall back on. This is perhaps one of the easiest tricks mentioned so far. The trick generally involves both of you taking up some generic roles and playing them out for comedic relief. There are four steps to consider here. First, compliment the other person on some quality that they have, like being a great navigator. Then, assign them a role based on this quality, say being like Magellan. This is the role they’ll play, that of a renowned navigator. Simply follow this up with interesting questions about navigation (“Which continent did you enjoy discovering most?”) and pull them into the role play.
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Instant Role Play
One of the best ways to break out of interview mode is to engage in role play. Taking on a character, leaving yourself behind, and engaging in the ultimate type of conversational play.
Let’s think about that from a bird’s-eye view.
You’re stuck in an interview style of small-talk conversation. There doesn’t seem to be any hope of transitioning into a conversation that builds any meaningful rapport. You both feel too self-conscious and restrained in what you can talk about. You feel trapped, and to make things worse, the friend who gave you a ride won’t be back for another hour or so.
Now, what if you decided to act like someone from a television show or movie? What if you actively imagined what that character would do in your situation and said it out loud?
Imagine that the other person went through the same exact process, and started playing the role of someone else. What would your conversation look like at that point?
Therein lies the magic of role playing. Not only is it great for conversational play and amusement, it can break you out of conversational prisons. It allows you to say what you might not otherwise say, and act in ways that you normally would be too self-conscious to ever do.
It is playing around and injecting a lot of fun and informality into your conversation. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you ask a question, the other person answers, then they ask a question, and you answer. In many cases, such exchanges are superficial and forgettable.
If you want to get the attention of the person and make a good impression, play around with them and do a little bit of role play.
Instant role play is easier to do than the tactics in the previous two chapters, and will also help you infuse some humor into a conversation. The tricky part is getting the other person to play along. To be successful, choose generic roles that anyone can play with little effort.
Telling traditional jokes with their structural requirements requires the right topic and situation for them to make sense. That kills a lot of spontaneity and fun during a conversation. Until you get up to speed, it’s usually a better decision to try more conversational laugh tactics, and instant role play is one of them.
Just like the scenario at the beginning of this chapter, role play takes you to a different mental arena where people use their wit and deliberately work together with you during the conversation to keep playing out those roles.
You are creating an improvised comedy performance on the fly, and with this technique, you tell people what roles they will play so they will naturally comply with you. You are the one initiating the role play, and this allows people to follow you when they see a clear direction as to where to go.
At the root of it, role playing is fun. When you get into it, people will take off running. Whether or not we did choir or theater in school, it’s fun to step into someone else’s life, even for a short time.
At some point in our lives, we have tried to play a role, or we say ridiculous things that we normally don’t say. We try to step into the shoes of somebody else and look at the world from their perspective and act accordingly. Doing so engages many different aspects of our personal imagination and creativity. It’s a great way to step out of our daily routine and roles.
Most people welcome role playing because our personal roles can get restrictive in reality. For example, your role is a son, a friend, a boyfriend, an employee, and so on and so forth. It is too easy to define yourself based on your roles instead of who you really are. As a result, most jump at the opportunity to break out of their daily lives with role playing. Think about how empowered you feel when you wear a mask during Halloween and become anonymous.
So, what are the steps in role playing?
Step one: make a “judgment” statement about someone.
The trick is that the statement has to put them in contrast to you. It has to make them relatively better, worse, funnier, happier, crazier, or calmer than you. It can be a compliment, or a playful tease, as long as it contrasts yourself to the other person.
For example, you can give them a compliment. This puts them in a superior role to you. You might say, “Your sense of style is so amazing, I wish I had it too.” This statement implies that the other person has better taste in clothing than you. Relative to you, they are superior in this regard.
A tease, on the other hand, puts them in an inferior role to you. For example, when you say, “Nice jacket. Do they make it for women?” the implication is that they can’t tell the difference between and men’s and women’s jackets, and they need help dressing themselves. Relatively speaking, you are superior to them in this regard.
You aren’t judging them, but you are making a statement that assigns a value to the other person.
Step two: give them a label based on the statement that you made.
Here you’ll see why it is so important that the statement you made in step one assigns a relative value.
For example, if you give somebody the compliment “Wow, you are great at navigating,” continue on and give them a title or label, such as “Milwaukee’s very own Magellan,” or “my go-to personal GPS during road trips.”
If you went the opposite way and teased someone with “you are terrible at navigating,” you would give them a title or label such as “You are like Lewis and Clark but blind” or “Google Maps but offline.”
It is important that you actually give them a title or label, versus just describing how good or bad they are relative to you. It’s important because… that’s the role they will be playing!
Step three: starting playing the roles!
Whatever title or label you have given them, that’s the other person’s role.
What is your role? This is why the role needs to be relative to you: you can either be someone who is learning from that person, or someone who is teaching that person.
For example, if someone is the modern-day Magellan, then that’s their role, and your role is to be curious about how they learned their craft and got so good at it. If you elevate someone, then your role is inferior to them.
If someone is Google Maps but offline, then their role is inferior to you, and you take the role of teaching them. If you playfully tease someone down, your role is superior to them.
Spell out the roles, and then act in them. This is crucial to the humor. You have to remain consistent.
This is how it sounds all put together from top to bottom:
“You are so great with maps and navigating, I can’t believe it. You’re like a modern-day Magellan.”
“Oh, thanks, man. I’ve just done it a lot.”
“No, you’re Magellan. Which continent did you most enjoy discovering?” (This is where you’ve assigned them their role, and are literally putting them into it and asking them to embrace it.)
“Oh… probably South America. The fruit is so good there.” (Here, they catch on that you are role playing. Not everyone will catch on immediately, or at all. If they catch on, they will stay in character and continue with the tone you’ve set. If they don’t happen to catch on, move on and try again in a short while.)
“Yeah, that makes sense. Did you interact with the locals?”
“All the time!”
“Did you men enjoy the locals or the fruit more?”
“Hard to say…”
So, what happened there? I explicitly told my conversational partner their role, and it came from the title that I gave them because of a compliment. The compliment was hyperbolic and exaggerated as those are the easier types of roles and characters to play.
It’s much easier—and more interesting—to play someone who is incredibly insane versus mildly disturbed, right?
After the person realizes what is happening, it’s up to you to keep the role play going. You’ve created the roles, the situation, and you have to continue to guide it.
Here’s another example of instant role play in action:
“This roast chicken tastes heavenly. You really know your way around the kitchen. You must be the local Bobby Flay!”
“Oh yes, I used the same recipe found in my new cookbook. Have you gotten a copy of it yet?”
“Not yet. Fancy giving me a signed copy?”
“Sure! As long as you don’t forget to tune in to my new show over at Food Network tomorrow evening.”
“Ah yes, you’re going to feature your barbecue sauce recipe there, right?”
“Yes. And if you invite me for a barbecue, I might just prepare that signature sauce for you and your other guests then!”
As you can see, instant role play is easier to instigate than you think. It allows you to blow through conversational impasses and enter a mode of thought where you are playing with the other person. It’s a much better mindset for rapport, and more conducive to making friends than beginning with small talk and trying to transition from there.