Empathy and Compassion simulation

Recently I was invited to a leadership workshop and one of the activity held was an empathy and compassion simulation that help participant to understand

The definition of empathy itself is the ability to feel and understand what another person is experiencing from the other person frame of reference. One quote to explain empathy is ‘putting yourself on someone else’s shoes’. Meanwhile, one step further from empathy is what we found compassion. The feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

While the definition can be understood, empathy and compassion are two things that needs to be experienced to understand it by heart. This simulation helped participant to experience what it likes to have disadvantages that other people have and through this process, participants are able to develop their empathy and compassion.

So, here is the simulation:

Part 1

Teams of 4-5 people is formed and each team is given a task to build a ‘structure’ of two poker cards. Basically, to make the two cards standing in a triangle shape. However, each card structure must consist of specific number, colors or suits, determined by the game master. For example, a structure should be build based on ‘odd numbers card’ and ‘even numbers card’, OR a structure should be build based on ‘number 10 black card’ and ‘number 10 red card’ OR  a structure should be build based on ‘a heart card’ and ‘a spade card’.

If the requirement is any black card it MEANS either Spades or Cloves

If the requirement is any red card it MEANS either Hearts or Diamonds

Sometimes the requirement can be ‘Odd number Heart card’ or ‘Even number cloves card’, so it means that any odd number heart card will do and any even number cloves card will do. If the requirement only state, ‘Odd’ or ‘Even’, any suits will do as long as it is odd and even numbers.

Game master will be the one determining the combination of the card and throughout five round games. Each round of 5 minutes, game master will assigned 10 different combination of cards to build 10 different structures. So basically, 20 different cards to build 10 structure.


Part 2

After getting the rules and expectation clear, each team member will be given different roles in the simulation. Here are the different roles:

The brain

The brain is someone that will carry the message from the game master to its team members. At the beginning of the game, the brain will be called outside of the room and game master will give the requirement to build the structure. So lets say, the game master will give an instruction to build a card structure based on ‘hearts’ and ‘cloves’ card, then the brain will relay the message to his/her teammates. However, the limitation of the brain is that he/she cannot speak or making a gesture, the brain can only draw to relay the message towards other teammates.

The Messenger

The messenger will be a person that received the drawing made by the brain and will carry the message to the teammates that build the structure. The limitation of the messenger is that he/she can only speak and cannot touch or help the other teammates in building the structure.

The builder

The builder is the one who will build the card structure. The person assigned with this role will receive the message that was originally formed by the brain and then carried by the messenger. The builder is very skillful with their hands, however, the builder must be blindfolded throughout the simulation. So, the messenger will be the one directing the builder on what card to choose and constructing the structure.

So basically that’s how the game works, every role has its own limitation. For two rounds out of total five rounds, every team must compete in finishing the structure given the combination provided by game master.


Here is the catch

In round 3, game master will instruct every team to command their team members to change their roles. So, in this round a brain must change to either builder or messenger. The brain cannot stay as his/her original role in this round. The same also apply to other roles as well. What happen in this round would be complete chaos and will result in low productivity.  From the first two rounds each person gained specialization in their respective role, but due to the sudden change, those specialization cannot be utilized. A new person will become the new brain, messenger, and builder.

Starting from round 4, every team are free to change the roles of their team members and no restriction applied in this round and the next.


Now, what you are about to see is a growth in number of structure successfully and correctly developed  between round 1 and round 2, the growth is due to specialization of each member playing in their respective roles on both round 1 and 2. In round 3, you will see the result plummeted, it will significantly decreased or even zero result. This is due to sudden change and being unprepared to play other roles. You will see frustration in the room.

In round 4 and 5, you will see miracle, you will the result of structure being developed will grow exponentially! Why? Here is to understand the simulation.

In first two round, every participants will only focus to play in their respective roles and they just being focus on how to become the best in their respective roles. This shows how they lack in empathy and compassion to their teammates that play with their restriction. In round 3, everything changed, each participants never expected to play in someone else’s role with their limitation. This is the point that the whole simulation is about,  ‘putting yourself on someone else’s shoes’. After experiencing playing in different role, each participant will develop the empathy, and being compassion on trying to make better situation for their teammates. You will see the brain sketching easy to understand picture for the messenger, you will see the messenger will relay the message and communicate with the builder in more effective ways, and you will see the builder will get clearer understanding on how the game is played and able to work effectively.


This is the type of simulation that I will recommend to experience how empathy and compassion work.


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