Example of Role Play in Coaching Session

My intention in providing this example is to give you permission (not that you would need it from me) to play with and experiment with your coaching. I hope it gives you ideas about how you might begin to design fewer actions for your coachees to do later and create more experiments for your coachees to perform in the moment.


I was coaching the CEO and the CMO of a company. My work with the CMO focused on her relationship with her responsibilities for the company and with the CEO. The issue of healthy boundary-setting came up over and over again in our work.

After a year of our working together, the CMO had become much more clear and firm about the boundaries she was setting between work and the rest of her life. That was a big win! And she was feeling stronger and more confident.

And still, after dozens of coaching conversations in which we talked about and role played boundary-setting conversations she wanted to have with her boss, she hadn’t yet had even one (Too many reasons to name here and there were many). Over time, the relationship between the CEO and CMO became strained and brittle.

What I Did:

I suggested to the CMO and then to the CEO that I facilitate a dialogue between them…… Yeah, I have an idea of what you might be thinking. I thought it, too. Our coachees need to do their own work and have their own conversations. We can’t do it for them. Our coachees are, after all, “creative, resourceful and whole.”  

And after a year of Groundhog Day coaching sessions and role plays of her conversations with the CEO, it wasn’t happening. Of course, I did what coaches do, exploring and addressing what was getting in the way. But nothing was changing and the impact of an on-going toxic relationship between the CEO and CMO was catastrophic for the company. And the company was my client, too. (I coached the COO and CFO, as well.)

So, for good or bad, right or wrong, better or worse, I facilitated a dialogue between the CEO and CMO.  

How It Went:

I started by creating context for the session, and facilitated a dialogue about the importance of their relationship to the company and what they wanted for their relationship. I asked each of them to talk about what feels to them like obstacles to their relationship and to listen deeply to each other.  They did that. We talked about how to address those obstacles and what they each would do going forward to improve their relationship. One of the things the CMO said she would do was to give the CEO feedback, especially when she felt her boundaries being violated.

That felt like a win right there. And before my introduction to Narrative Coaching, I would have stopped there feeling like we’d accomplished what we set out to do. But I didn’t stop there.

The Role Play/Experiment

I invited the CMO to give the CEO some feedback right then. (It’s so much easier to say your going to do it than to do it.) The CMO laughed nervously and said, “OK…”.  Then she paused  and laughed nervously some more and looked at me, and said “I can’t think of any.” (I’m thinking “Seriously! For the past year, it’s all you’ve been talking about and now you can’t think of any?” And I get it. She was experiencing the fog of anxiety and just couldn’t see anything.)  

So (again, you might take issue with this), I gave her a verbal nudge, “What about what you told me on Monday about a conversation the two of you had?” (I’m thinking, “You remember, the one where you broke down crying and asked him to stop and he didn’t and you wanted to leave and he told you not to, that one?!”)

And courageously, the CMO said to the CEO almost exactly what we’d talked about. She shared how she’d felt trapped and violated by the exchange and how she’d felt embarrassed because it all happened in the clear glass-walled conference room in the center of the office - in full view of everyone working nearby.  

The CEO was stunned and sad and ashamed and apologetic. He simply didn’t get the impact he had on her. And now he did.


So far so good. The CMO’s finally sharing with the CEO the impact of his words and behavior made a huge difference. (And it didn’t hurt that the CEO was in the middle of a 360 feedback process, so he recognized the feedback wasn’t just her.) Their relationship has improved dramatically, and the CEO now has a much better understanding of how he can be a better leader for his company, and a better partner in his relationship with his CMO.

~ Alison Whitmire

President | Learning in Action

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