Holiday Play to Reduce Stress and Improve Workplace Communication

By Gerard Johnson, M.S. December 23, 2020

The holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year for many people. Then 2020 arrived; stressors multiplied tenfold. If we add up all the stress and increased workload from Covid, plus patients rushing in to use their insurance benefits by the end of the year, our teams can suffer breakdowns in communication and team camaraderie. Have you ever considered introducing games to help combat this breakdown? Yes, they might seem a little corny, but there’s a reason. We want to interrupt workplace patterns, strip away some of our emotional guarding, get the creative juices flowing, and add some fun and humor to our work environment. Please don’t underestimate the power of team-building games and exercises to bring your practice staff together. Below are some ideas with a holiday spin that I have developed over the years to improve communication, camaraderie, and empathy in my teams.

Do you hear what I hear?

Step 1: Picking Groups

Pick groups ahead of time. This is a good opportunity to try building connections between team members. Group team members together that appear to have the least in common or team members that closely work together. Based on the amount of time you have set aside; create groups of 2-4 individuals. Each person needs to find their favorite holiday song (you can also just have them pick their favorite song at that moment) and pull it up on their favorite music or video app, such as YouTube, Tidal, Spotify, etc.

Step 2: Play the Music (5 minutes)

Each person in the group plays their song through the first chorus or 1:30 mins of their song for everyone. The other group member(s) writes down the 3 feelings that they think the song engenders in the other person.

Step Three: Time to Share (10 minutes)

The listeners reveal their answers to the player and then the player reveals feelings the song gives them. During the small group discussion, the Leader brings everyone together to review the larger purpose of the game. The leader should also ask the group the following questions: What were the group’s feelings and thoughts? How do the group’s feelings differ? Did the title of the song correlate to the feelings the song evoked? How so?

Larger Purpose:

Free Vector | Characters of people listening to music illustrationFinding empathy for someone from a different background is like trying to gauge how someone else feels about a song just by reading the title. Everyone hears things differently based on their own experiences. When you are given the instructions to guess what the other person is feeling, you automatically put your feelings to the side about the song. You actively try to empathize with the other person and feel what you think they feel by listening to the song. How often do you actively put your feelings aside and actively try to empathize with another person? When you hear something you do not agree with, do you try to actively empathize or see where the other person is coming from? Empathy is a skill just as much as behavior or feeling. We can get better at it, but like any skill, if we do not actively practice it, we can lose that skill and develop negative habits. For example, studies have shown that a lack of empathy towards black patients could affect their pain treatment resulting in black patients receiving less pain medication and treatment than white patients. (1) We need to focus on actively empathizing with our patients, no matter what the title of the song, because it could save a life.

Christmas Show and Tell

Step 1: Group staff members in pairs.

The group decides who will ask questions first and who the interviewer will be.

Step 2: The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever!!! (5 minutes)

Ask team members to use their cell phones to pull up a picture of their favorite toy as a child on their cell phones.

Step 3: Time to Tell (10 minutes)

The interviewer asks about the toy. The questions must remain on the topic for the duration of their assigned time. Each person gets an opportunity to show off their toy and to ask questions. The interviewer should ask at least one Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why question. Questions must be open-ended, not yes or no questions. Before asking each question, the interviewer must start each question by asking permission to ask a question. The answers must be completed, detailed, and to the point. The interviewer must listen to the answer to each question. Questioner only asks questions and Answerer only answers the question that is asked.

Step 4: Time to Share (5 minutes)

Ask everyone what they learned from the game. Did they understand why asking for permission before asking a question would be important? Did you notice anything regarding the tone of voice when asking and answering the questions? Share the larger purpose of the exercise.

Larger Purpose:

This game is designed as a fun way to build camaraderie, learn something new about teammates, and most importantly improve communication within teams. It sounds silly to tell people to listen. However, I’m sure you’ve had a conversation where you could tell the other person had no interest in your answers and are simply waiting for their turn to talk. The skill of asking a question and directly answering a question is a lost art. When was the last time you asked someone for permission to ask a question? If you are anything like me, you are used to just walking up to someone and just blurting out a question. However, walking up to someone just asking questions shows a complete disregard for the person’s time. What if the other person was in the middle of something important? I cannot tell you how many arguments arise in stressful situations because of someone being offended because they felt the other person “had an attitude,” when in fact they just asked a question without giving the other person time to prepare to answer. Communication and kindness can go a long way. This game is a great way to teach both.

Tis the season to bring your team together to build camaraderie, improve communication, and further develop your empathy towards patients and one another. Team building doesn’t have to be a boring once a year exercise of trust falls and personality test. Learning and laughing go hand and hand. Finish this tough year with a little bit of holiday play to set your practice up for a strong start to 2021. 


Hoffman, Kelly M., et al. Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Apr 19; 113(16): 4296–4301.

Gerard Johnson, M.S.

Gerard is a writer, trainer, and leader who has worked in healthcare since 2003. He has managed and trained teams in Optometry, Ophthalmology, and Family Medicine. Gerard currently works as a practice manager for a family practice in Atlanta, GA.

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