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ATD Blog

Teaching the “Art of Conversation” With Card Games

Tuesday, December 21, 2021
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Babies learn to speak by imitating the speech and sounds around them. If you’ve heard a baby speaking gibberish but matching the cadence and pauses of an adult conversation, you have witnessed the process of a baby learning to actively participate in a conversation. The words might not be there, but all the other elements—inflections, pauses, and give-and-take—are present.

As we mature into young adults, we learn words and speech patterns. Some teenagers become good at conversation and some need prodding and coaching. As we mature even more, we begin to learn specialty conversations often associated with a specific profession. If you are in the funeral business, you learn how to have a consoling conversation with a grieving family. If you are in law enforcement, you learn to have a conversation in a manner that de-escalates a potentially dangerous situation. If you are in sales, you learn how to have a persuasive conversation.

The art of conversation is something that can be practiced, refined, and perfected overtime, but it takes effort. In today’s virtual world, as communication often is relegated to short text messages, hastily assembled emails, or awkward video interactions, we’ve become rusty and have lost some of our specialized conversational skills.

The Advantages of Card Games

One counterintuitive but highly effective training technique for reviving and honing conversational skills is card games.

Picture this:

A player, perhaps a sales professional, turns over a card and reads a scenario out loud then responds as if they are addressing the person in the scenario. After, the other players vote to indicate if the answer was acceptable or not. The players also could challenge the first player to provide more information or a better answer. A third option is for the other players to decide if they can do better and respond to the scenario themselves. These are all elements of a card game design that encourage dialogue among the players.

The beauty of this technique is that the traditional role-play exercise is turned into an engaging and fun game. It encourages participants to verbalize their strategies and common language and to demonstrate to others their conversational skills.

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A card game allows the learner to practice key conversational skills. The players must carefully listen to the first player’s response if they want to mount an effective challenge. This encourages the listener to be “in the moment.” If you are going to challenge another player’s answer, you can’t be thinking ahead of your own answer; instead, you must carefully listen to what is being said.

The players also must critically listen. The potential challenger must listen for mistakes, misstatements, or omissions. This requires a critical ear to hear what is being said and what is not being said. The skill of critical listening is not practiced much in organizations because it is hard to set up a situation where critical listening can be practiced. This type of card game provides the perfect opportunity for such practice.

The listener needs to make their own conclusions about what is right, what is wrong, and what should have been stated in the response to the scenario. This requires a deep understanding of the subject matter and the proper method of applying knowledge within a conversational setting.

From the responder’s point of view, they must be prepared to defend their statements, pivot if asked to add something new to their answer, and be prepared to handle rebuttals, challenges, and other affronts to their response to the scenario. In short, this type of card game makes the learner think about how they carry on a conversation.

This type of game is what’s often called “hard fun,” which is an experience where the learner has to work hard to be successful but enjoys the process of getting to the end. Games, when designed correctly, can allow this to happen. Additionally, with modern advances in technology, a card game can be provided as a physical deck of cards or as a virtual digital game. The advantage of the digital version is that it can be played over distance and scores and actions taken are automatically tracked.

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If you are tasked with teaching the art of conversation within your organization, take a step backward and consider how to design a card game to provide your learners with a chance to think critically and deeply about how they carry on conversations within your field.

If you are thinking of creating a customized physical or digital card game, here are some links that can help:

Custom Physical Card Game Vendors

Custom Digital Card Game Vendors

For a deeper dive, join me February 10, 2022 at ATD TechKnowledge for the session Card Games (Digital and Analog) to Teach Effective Conversational Techniques.

About the Author

Karl Kapp has a worldwide reputation as one of the pioneers in the gamification of learning and instruction, having literally written the book on the topic. He's making headlines with his newest book, Microlearning: Short and Sweet. Kapp is an expert in the convergence of learning, technology, and business, was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Education in 2017, and is the recipient of the 2019 ATD Individual Contributor Award. He works all over the world helping employers (from Fortune 100 companies to start-up organizations) deliver effective, meaningful instruction using a game-thinking approach. He is a TEDx speaker, an international keynoter, and the author of several LinkedIn Learning courses as well the creator of Zombie Sales Apocalypse and Zombie Instructional Design Apocalypse, popular card games for learning. Follow Karl on Twitter @kkapp..

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