Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. | Search


Most employees are trained to control and hide their emotions and behave in a professional fashion. However, professionals have emotions too. These feelings and emotions are critical components of many conversations. As Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen point out in their brilliant book, Difficult Conversations (published by Viking) unexpressed emotions leak into conversations, take a toll out of our self-esteem and relationships, and make it difficult for us to listen to what the other person is saying.


To effectively express appropriate feelings and emotions in professional conversations with another person.


Any number


60 - 90 minutes



List of scenarios. Review the GUT TALK Checklist and the list of sample scenarios. If you want to, prepare your own scenarios that are locally relevant. However, don't make them so close to real incidents and people that they may arouse conflicting reactions. To specify your scenario, all you need is a one-or-two-sentence description so participants can personalize it with their own experiences and preferences.

Demonstration roleplay. Select one of the scenarios and prepare a roleplay to demonstrate the application of the checklist items to the situation. If possible, record a roleplay with a friend (playing the role of a listener) on videotape. If you prefer, rehearse the roleplay with a co-facilitator so that you can perform it "live" during the play session.

Room Setup

Arrange chairs in clusters of five. You don't need tables for this activity.


Present the framework. Briefly discuss the costs associated with both suppressing and expressing feelings and emotions in the workplace. When a person decides that it is worth clearing the air by expressing feelings in a specific situation, he or she should clearly identify these feelings and analyze them. The roleplay activity that you are planning to conduct can help the person effectively express his or her emotions without becoming emotional.

Discuss the GUT TALK Checklist. Distribute copies of the checklist to each participant. Explain that the six items in the checklist are recommendations for expressing feelings. Pause briefly while participants review the checklist items. Invite questions and comments and discuss them.

Demonstrate appropriate behaviors. Inform participants that they will be roleplaying in the ensuing exercise. Briefly introduce the sample scenario. Play the videotaped demonstration or roleplay the situation with your co-facilitator. If you don't have a videotape or a co-facilitator, ask for a volunteer. Assign the role of the listener to this person, assume the role of a speaker, and conduct the demonstration roleplay.

Form groups. Divide participants into groups of five to seven. Five is preferable to six or seven. However, try to keep different groups roughly the same size.

Assign roles. Give a packet of five role cards to each group and ask each participant to take one. If there are more five people in a group, ask the observer to share the card with one or two of the others without cards. Explain that the ensuing activity will involve three minutes each of preparation, roleplaying, and debriefing. Explain that each role card contains instructions on what to do before, during, and after the roleplay. Pause briefly while participants review their role cards.

Specify the scenario. Briefly describe the situation in which the roleplay is to take place. Use your own scenario or one from the list. Explain that the speaker and his or her coach will make up any additional details and assumptions as needed.

Begin the preparation activities. Ask players and coaches to find each other and get ready for the roleplay according to the instructions on the cards. If the groups have more than five members, ask observers to find each other (within each group) and decide who will observe which checklist item during the roleplay. During the preparation time, supply blank pieces of paper and felt pens to the coaches and briefly review how to use them.

Begin the roleplay. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle and instruct participants to take their positions: In each group, the speaker and the listener are seated facing each other. The speaker's coach stands behind the listener and the listener's coach stands behind the speaker so that they can hold up the coaching cards without distracting the other person. The observer (or observers) is seated in front of the roleplayers. Ask the speakers at each group to begin the roleplay.

Monitor the roleplay. Float around the roleplay groups, observing and noting down interesting actions and comments--without interfering with the roleplay. Your co-facilitator should also be doing the same thing.

Conduct in-group debriefing. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle to stop the roleplay. Explain that the members of each group will give feedback only to the speaker (because we are focusing on this person's behavior). Each group member will take turns to make one positive comment about the speaker's behavior and suggest one change for the speaker to consider. Emphasize that each person is limited to just two brief statements and these statements should relate the speaker's behavior to the checklist items. Ask the participants to follow the sequence specified in their role cards: observer (or observers), speaker's coach, listener's coach, listener, and the speaker. Ask the observer in each group to get the debriefing started. People who have later turns should avoid the "others-have-already-said-what-I-wanted-to-say" ploy and make a new statement even if it is of a lower priority.

Conduct general debriefing. After 3 minutes, get the attention of all participants from different groups and provide some general feedback based on what you (and your co-facilitator) observed during the earlier roleplay. Then briefly discuss participants' insights about different checklist items.

Change role assignments. Within each group, ask each participant to pass the role card to the next person so that the speaker becomes the listener, the listener becomes the speaker's coach, the speaker's coach becomes the observer, the observer becomes the listener's coach, and the listener's coach becomes the new speaker.

Repeat the procedure. Present a new scenario and ask participants to repeat the roleplay procedure with 3 minutes each of preparation, roleplay, and debriefing. At the end of each round, conduct a general debriefing, change role assignments, and start a new round.

Conclude the activity. At the end of the final round, announce the conclusion of the activity. Suggest that each participant think of a situation where he or she can actually use the approach outlined in the GUT TALK Checklist. Pause for about 30 minutes while participants complete a rapid action plan by identifying a suitable situation and writing down some notes.

GUT TALK Checklist

  1. Explain why you want to express your emotions and ask for the other person's permission to do so.
  2. Specify all the different feelings you have. Don't focus on just one negative feeling.
  3. Don't blame or judge the other person.
  4. Own your feelings. Make "I feel..." statements rather than "You make me..." statements.
  5. Listen to the other person's responses.

Speaker Role Card

Before the roleplay

During the roleplay

After the roleplay

Speaker's Coach Role Card

Before the roleplay

During the roleplay

After the roleplay

Listener Role Card

Before the roleplay

During the roleplay

After the roleplay

Listener's Coach Role Card

Before the roleplay

During the roleplay

After the roleplay

Observer Role Card

Before the roleplay

During the roleplay

After the roleplay


Both your parents are facing major medical problems. You are not sure if you should ask for a leave of absence.

Even though employees in your corporation have been assured of job security, several of your friends have been downsized.

You are excited about a major project assigned to you, but you are not sure if you have the experience and expertise to handle it.

You are having great difficulty making an appointment to meet your manager.

You contributed a lot to the successful completion of the project. But your name is not even mentioned in the final project.

You feel that the company has not given you enough freedom to use your talents.

You feel that your manager is making promotion decisions based on the 360 feedback given by your co-workers. You are convinced that one of them is trying to sabotage your promotion.

You want to tell your mentor how grateful you are. But you are worried she may think that you are flattering her.

Your budget is reduced by 10 percent--and no other budget is affected.

Your co-worker has failed to deliver a critical report to you on time. Now your report is going to be delayed.

Your manager has been making disparaging remarks about you while talking to other managers.

Your manager keeps forgetting previous assignments given to you and keeps giving you more and more assignments.