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Forced Choices
RichardFriend,Ph.D.,FriendandAssociates,Inc.
Chicago,Illinois,USA
Purposeandlearningobjectives
Forced-choice exercises challenge participants to be both interactive and introspective. They
require participants to make a choice, take a stance, or put their stakes in the ground about
some topic, issue, or challenge. Objectives for this activity include
promoting active discussion while practicing key communication skills: assertion and self-
disclosure, taking a position, listening for understanding, and giving and receiving
feedback;
energizing the group through the use of physical, visual movement;
modeling how to create a safe environment in order to communicate about differences
between groups, by recognizing common ground and areas of difference;
greater understanding of one’s own personal beliefs, opinions, and attitudes, as well as
those of others.
Targetaudience
This activity has been effectively used with intact work groups as a meeting energizer and
with the general public. A minimum of 12 people is required. When the group is larger than
35, methods other than physically moving might work better (see #2 under planning).
Time
30 to 90 minutes, depending on the number of forced-choice statements used. It can also be
done in rounds, with forced-choice statements used at different points during a program.
Materials
Signs marked with the choices people will be forced to make (such as “Agree” and
“Disagree”) if they are to move physically around the room to indicate their choices
Moveable chairs, if you intend to do this for some length of time
Pencils and paper, if you are going to have participants write down their responses to the
trigger statements
One copy of the Sample Facilitator Presentation, “Managing a Forced-Choice Activity:
What to Say”
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Procedure
PLANNING
1. Carefully design as many trigger statements as you are likely to need. Select words and
phrases that evoke feelings and values about the topic that you want to address. Include
words that are open to interpretation and are likely to create a divergence of perspective.
Here are some sample cross-cultural statements:
“Our organization is ready to work effectively across cultures.”
“I am ready to work effectively across cultures.”
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
“It is better for the ‘outsider’ to try to fit in to the new culture as much as possible.”
“If you study the nuances of a culture before working there, you run the risk of re-
stereotyping people and their cultures.”
“Valuing and managing diversity is a U.S. concept, and organizations that enforce it
globally are engaging in corporate colonialism.”
2. Decide how participants will indicate their choices (agree or disagree) within the
constraints of time and the physical setting. For example, do you want them to:
move to different sides of the room?
stand or sit?
put thumbs up or down?
hold up different color cards to indicate “agree” or “disagree”?
The last three options work better with a large group, or where space is limited.
3. Decide on the number of choices (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) or a
continuum (having people form a line). The more choices you offer, the longer it will take
to debrief and the greater the likelihood that more participants will pick a “safer” middle-
of-the-road response.
F
ACILITATING
1. Explain the procedure and set the following guidelines:
What to say is found on the sample facilitator presentation sheet, “Managing a Forced-
Choice Activity: What to Say.”
Individuals are to speak for themselves; there will be no spokespersons for a group.
Use “I” language when you speak.
Focus on listening for understanding, not on persuading or trying to get people to move
to your side.
When discussing positions with others, paraphrase what you have heard before you
respond or add your perspective.

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