Exercise: Land disputes


  • To practice non verbal negotiation skills.
  • To interrogate the relationship between words and body language
  • To elicit conversation about the principles of negotiation, collaboration and team work.
  • To brainstorm and practice solutions to group conflicts
  • To explore the underlying motivations of conflict


Two teams on opposite sides negotiate their claim on land using gibberish.

Time: 10-20 min

Group size: 6-30


The facilitator divides the participants arbitrarily into 2 groups. Each group lines up on opposite sides of an open space. The facilitator explains that the space represents a strip of land that lies between the occupied land of two communities. On the land grow beautiful big trees. One community wants the land so they can preserve the trees, the other wants it so they can cut them down and use them.

The groups decide which community they represent and why they either want to preserve or use the trees. They can preserve it for instance because the trees mark sacred graves, or are sacred themselves or because the community wants to conserve the environment for future generations etc. The other group may want to use the trees for shelter against fierce winds, or for fuel against cold winterss or to sell for a profit. The groups negotiate their reasons amongst themselves in gibberish as a practise round.

Next the facilitator asks them to pick a negotiator that will meet the negotiator of the other group in the middle of the open space. Selected negotiators are instructed to meet each other and begin the negotiations in gibberish. The rest of the community is asked to support their negotiators in gesture and sound where presumed fitting. Negotiations cease when either side gives up, or when the facilitator feels it has done what it can for now. Or, when it becomes too fiolent.

Once the first round has been debriefed, participants may go a second and third round until the game has achieved what it can for the moment.

Debriefing questions:

  • What was this like for the negotiators?
  • What was it like for the group members?
  • What was intersting? Perplexing? Hopeful?
  • Where did it go wrong? What might be the reasons?
  • What worked? Why do you think this happened?
  • What would you do differently? More of? Less of?
  • Would you like to try again?
  • Did you experience or observe any stereotypical genderist/agist/racist feelings or behaviour during any part of the game play? What do you think caused this? (Our experience is that the absence of language levels the playing field to a large degree and that stereotypical behaviour decrease the more participants genuinely seek agreement.)


  1. For an extra kick you may introduce an element of tension by inventing a reason why there is a time urgency to conclude negotiations: E.g. winter storms are brewing and the tree users must  build their shelters before it strikes, but the other group believes the crisis is exactly what is needed to find other solutions since no threat should interfere with the principles of conservation/ sacred tradition etc.
  2. Ask participants to pair up with some from the opposite team. LEt them discuss what in the game play made them feel closer to, or further from, agreement. After some moments of discussion, ;et the, return to their teams and discuss what they had learned. Play another round where they impliment their discoveries.

Online adaptation

In the absence of spatial orientation in the online room, we suggest that you change the scenario to fit the context. E.g. Participants are all part of a production company who has landed their first major TV series. The stakes are high. They need to make a reality show with a certain family. One part of the team believes they should work with the family as natural as possible and not interfere with how they appear on screen. The other side believes that some performance training is needed, and that hair and make-up alterations are essential to present the family in a certain way for entertainment purposes. The team must come to an agreement before they pitch their concept to the client. Introduce tension by suggesting that they client is waiting in the next room for their concept presentation.

This adaptation works because the gestures can center around the face and hair which is most visible in the screen. It is limiting because it does not really relate to the survival of a community or the environment to the same extent as does the land conversation, but it is still very effective.

Exercise: walking with enlarged body parts.

Great for helping people get into their bodies and conect with tacit knowledge

Possible objectives:

  • To get the group into their bodies and into the present moment.
  • To increase participants’ awareness of themselves in space with other people.
  • To lift the energy and mood.
  • To elicit conversations regarding the body, how it is presentedand how it is perceived..


Participants walk in the space imagining that alternate body parts become inflated and oversized.

Time: 7 min

Number of participants: 6 – 50


Facilitator asks participants to walk in the space concentrating on filling gaps that they see open up. She asks them to bring awareness to each body part from the toes up to the scalp, calling every body part by name and asking them to breathe life into it. Next she asks participants to walk as if they have inflated body parts e.g.:

  • Feet the size of mini vans,
  • Hands with fingers like canoes
  • Bums the size of busses
  • A head the size of a hot air balloon
  • A heart the size of a star ship.

Each time suggest things they try to do with the inflated body part (pick up a ball, get into an elevator etc.). Between body parts, let the inflated part return to normal before blowing up the next one.

Debriefing questions:

  1. What was that like?
  2. What do you think is the point of this exercise?
  3. What changes do you notice in yourself or the group compared to before this exercise/series of exercises?
  4. Were there any specific moments that brought up an emotional response different than the others? Explain?
  5. What does this mean to you?
  6. What did we learn about our bodies, how we presnt or perceive them/ or the bodies of others?
  7. What does this mean to us?

Facilitator note: I once did this exercise with a group of 30 or sostudents. At least three of them responded indignantly and one very agrily towards the moment of walking with enlarged back sides. One said it reminded her too much of the negative and , in her view, degrading image of the large bottomed black woman stereotype. She chise to sit in the middle of the floor and not move. Another student agreed and berated me for putting them in this difficult situation. I needed to calm the situation down and explain that the game is neutral, but that their reations are important and valuable food for reflection. It was after this experience that I added the forth outcome above and the last few reflection questions. It just goes to sjow, there is knowledge in the body and we can never know what body work may conjure up for participants.




‘I’m curious’

Possible outcomes:

  • Learning to ask curious questions.
  • Building listening skills, especially listening without judgement.
  • Appreciating diversity.
  • Expanding your point of view.


In pairs, participants have a discussion about a controversial topic, each taking an opposite point of view. Participants are only allowed to ask curious questions about their partner’s point of view.

Time: 5 – 15 min
Number of participants: In pairs

Game flow:

Ask participants to pair up. Instruct them to pick a controversial topic of which each chooses an opposite point of view. One participant shares their point of view and the other participant is only allowed to respond with curious questions. It helps if they start their questions with the words ‘I’m curious …’ Tell them to be careful not to disguise their own point of view in the form of a question. The questions must come from genuine curiosity and not from judgement.

Debrief questions:

  • What struck you about this exercise?
  • What did it feel like to ask only curious questions?
  • What was it like being listened to in this way?
  • How was your listening different than usual?

Personal ‘yes, and…’ application

This exercise is an individual application of the ‘yes, and…’ principle and requires a quiet reflective atmosphere.

You need a pen and paper.

Step 1. Reflect on an issue in your personal or professional life that you would really like to change. Complete the following sentence:

Concerning this issue, I really want  … (fill in what it is that you want to see happen).

But… (list one to 3 things that are in the way of you achieving this outcome – things that are blocking or frustrating your efforts).

Step 2. Cross out the ‘But’ and replace it with the word ‘and’. Now the obstacles become mere conditions for the solution, they are no longer blocks.

Step 3. Complete a final sentence:

So what if … (what alternatives can you think of that accepts the conditions for the solution.)

Example 1

Step 1.

I really want to read more in order to keep up to date and in step with developments in my field

But I have no time

Step 2.

I really want to read more in order to keep up to date and in step with developments in my field

But  AND I have no time to read

Step 3

So what if I get some audio books and listen in my car, or while I do the disches.

Example 2(actual example from a workshop participant)

As the event co-ordinator of a large networking evening, I really want my guests to feel at home and set the scene for a wonderful event. I also want to enjoy the event myself.

But  AND I am not a good speaker, my hands shake and I am afraid I will forget important information. I stress so much that the whole evening is a blur usually.

So what if I rehearse a short welcoming speech to set the scene and then get an MC to co-ordinate the rest of the event, so I can sit back and enjoy it.

The Alpha Name, Something nice

Possible outcomes:

Learning everyone’s names.
Creating relatedness between participants.
Creating a positive atmosphere.


Participants line up alphabetically in a circle.  Each person gets a turn to share something nice that happened to them in the last week.

Time: 5-10 minutes
Number of Participants: 4-12.  For larger groups devide the group in smaller circles.

Game flow:

Invite participants to line up in the circle alphabetically by first name and then say their name and something nice that happened to them recently. When facilitating this, describe and model the length of answer you’d like.


keep it short – a sentence or two. (E.g. – My name is Burgert and yesterday an old friend from high school called me out of the blue.)
If there are more than 10 people, have people say their names and then get them into pairs and share with each other something nice that’s happen. Hear a few in the big group.

Origin: I learned this from Belina Raffy who learned it from Paul Z Jackson, President of the Applied Improvisation Network.

Sound Ball

Possible outcomes:

  • Practice listening and awareness skills.
  • Practice being present.
  • Practice spontaneity.
  • Builds energy and connection.


Players pass an imaginary ‘energy’ ball to each other in a circle, while cknowledging and creating sounds.

Time: 5 – 10 min
Number of Participants: Optimally 5-10, can run larger circles as demonstration, then split into smaller circles.

Game Flow:

Ask people to stand in a circle. Say, we’re going to throw an imaginary ball to each other.  The person who throws the ball mimes the characteristics (shape, size, consistency and weight) of the ball.  She then makes eye contact with another player and throws the ball to that person.  As she throws the ball she also gives the ball a sound. The person who receives the ball catches it with the same characteristics and sound that it was thrown to him.  The receiver then gives the ball new characteristics and throws it to someone else in the circle with a new sound. Gently correct as needed. Get a good rhythm going. The ‘ball’ should move fluidly and pick up speed in a comfortable way within the group. If people are holding on to the ‘ball’ and breaking the rhythm, after a few passes, pause the game and invite them to see if everyone can keep the rhythm/energy flowing without breaking/pausing.

Debrief Questions:

  • What did that activity encourage you to focus on?
  • What did it feel like if the ball paused?
  • What helped you to do this exercise well?
  • What delighted you?
  • What was hard?

Source: Remy Bertrand. http://www.imprology.com/

Online adaptation

Since people in an online room cannot stand in a circle, make eye contact to draw attention or aim the ball in the direction of the person they want to catch it, the following  adaptations can be made:

  1. The names of participants are visible on the screen, therefore, in order to throw the ball to someone, simply call out their name so they know it is for the.
  2. Encourage people to use distance from the camera as a way to create variety in the size and movement of the ball:  move away from the camera for big high energy balls and come closer for smaller and  more sluggish,  balls.
  3. Because of time lag, it can be tricky to foster a collective rhythm. However, you may still be able to speed up the game and create fluidity as people get into its flow.

Thank you, Alison Gitelson, for playing this game with me online and teaching me more about how to adapt it for online rooms!

Body guard

Possible outcomes:

• Playfulness.
• Fun and laughter.
• Illustrates how one person’s action influences a whole system.


Everyone stands in a circle. Each player chooses 2 other participants in their mind, who are their enemy and their bodyguard. When the game starts each player must ensure that his bodyguard is always between him and his enemy.

Time: 5 – 15 min
Number of participants: 8 – 30

Game flow:

Everyone stands in a circle. Ask the participants to each choose 2 other players in the circle and assign them with the letters A and B. Tell them that person A is their enemy and that person B is their bodyguard. Tell them that when you say “go” they must move to ensure that their bodyguard is always between them and their enemy. This results in a very dynamic movement of all the players that never reaches a state of equilibrium.

• When explaining the rules it helps to show an example using yourself and 2 other players as your enemy and bodyguard.
• Tell the players to take care of each other and that they are not allowed to hold on to another player. This is especially important when playing the game with teenagers.

Debrief questions:
• What did you notice while playing the game?
• What feelings did you experience while playing the game?
• What made the game fun?
• How did the movement of one player influence the rest of the players?


Tell the players that they are the bodyguard and that they must ensure that they are always between person A and B. This will result in everyone bundling up together.

I learned this game in Jet Eveleth’s class at the IO theatre in Chicago

Monster talk

Possible outcomes:

• Practices listening in the moment.
• Practices non-judgemental listening.
• Practices giving and taking control.


Participants all pair up with another player and have a conversation in which they speak in unison. Each player mirrors their partner’s speech in the moment.

Time: 5 – 15 min
Number of participants: 2 – 200

Game flow:

Ask participants to pair up with another player. Tell them that they are going to have a conversation and that the listener must mirror the speaker’s speech as she speaks. Ask a volunteer to help you give an example. The aim of the exercise is to speak at exactly the same time, so if the speaker notices that the listener is struggling to keep up, the speaker must slow down. The result sounds a bit like Dory speaking whale in the movie “Finding Nemo”.

Debrief questions:

• What did you notice while playing the game:
• How was your listening different than usual?
• What made the exercise difficult?
• What could you do to make it easier?

Got this game from the book Playing Along: 37 Group Learning Activities Borrowed from Improvisational Theater by Izzy Gesell

Group counting

Possible outcomes:

• Practice listening and awareness skills.
• Practice holding the silence.
• Trusting your intuition.


Participants stand in a circle and count to 20 without having a set sequence of whose turn it is next. Whenever 2 or more players say a number at the same time, they start from one again.

Time: 5 – 10 min
Number of players: 4 – 20

Game flow:

Everyone stands in a circle. Tell the participants that they have to count from one to twenty in order. Have them close their eyes or focus on the centre of the circle. Each person can say the next number whenever they wish. Whenever two players start to say a number at the same time they have to start from one again.


• If they struggle tell them that they should only speak when they feel it is their turn and that they should remain silent if they want to speak out of anxiety. Tell them to speak only when they feel it is their turn.

Debrief questions:

• What did it feel like playing the game?
• What helped you to get better at the game?
• How did you decide when it is your turn?
• When did you decide to stay silent?
• How is this like group processes at work?

I learned this game at the IO Theatre’s summer intensive course.

The Rant

Possible outcome:

• Practice deep listening.
• Become aware of own values
• Become aware of shared values


In pairs participants each get a chance to rant about something. The listener must listen for the value underneath the ranting and respond with “I hear you really care about…”

Time: 10 – 15 min
Number of participants: 2 – 200

Game flow:

Ask participants to pair up and sit in chairs facing each other. Tell them to think of something that really irritates them. Each participant then gets a chance to rant about this frustration for 2 minutes while their partner just listens. Tell them to fill the whole 2 minutes with their ranting. The listener’s task is to listen past the frustration for the underlying value that is really important to the speaker. After the 2 minutes are done the listener responds with the words “I hear you really care about…” The value that the listener listens for must be something positive. For example if the speaker rants about how she hates it when people are late, the listener shouldn’t say “I hear you really care about people not being late”. The right response could be “I hear you really care about respecting someone else’s time”.

Debrief questions:

• What did feel like being listened to like this?
• What did it feel like listening like this?
• What is the value of listening like this?

I learned this game from Holly Thorsen in a coffee shop in Amsterdam after the 2010 Applied Improvisation Conference.