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Who Are You?

Who are you is an exercise to peel off the layers of our identity – It will help you get to know yourself and others better.

By Gustavo Razzetti

February 4, 2019

Get to Know Your Team Better.

 "We contain multitudes." – Walt Whitman

When you ask someone “who are you?,” they usually reply with their name and occupation. Our profession, especially in the US, plays a critical role in our identity. It takes further probing — asking ‘who are you’ over and over — to get past relationship status, music preferences, or hobbies and finally  connect with our deeper self.

The first time I experienced this exercise was during a three-month leadership and personal development program at Stanford’s d.school facilitated by Bernie Roth.

What is the Who You Are Exercise?

Help people reconnect with the multiple layers of their identity by continually asking “who are you?”

This exercise is ideal to help people familiarize with others pretty quickly, such as workshops with people from different organizations or team offsite where “knowing each other better” is key. It can also be applied to networking events.  

People soon realize that they are much more than their job, relationship status, and hobbies – they reconnect with multiple layers of identity (both past and present).

How?

Divide the team into pairs. 

The exercise is pretty straightforward: one person asks “Who are You?” and the other responds with whatever comes to mind. 

The first person keeps asking “Who are you?” right after each answer. This goes on for two minutes and then people rotate roles– the person who responded now gets to ask “who are you?” 

Debrief the exercise. 

Bring all the teams together and let people share their experience. You can ask one by one, or use popcorn-style (anyone can chime in when they want).

What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about your partner? How did the exercise feel? What have you discovered about our identities? 

Coaching Tips

The exercise is simple, but most people struggle as time goes by. Initially, people share their usual labels but, as they dive deeper into their identity, it gets harder and harder.

The person that asks “Who are you?” cannot engage in a conversation. S/he cannot provide feedback or comment– though most people feel compelled to do so. The feeling of loneliness invites self-reflection. 

You will notice that some people change the tone while asking the question. That makes it more fun and interesting.

Advise people to be mindful of their body language– facial reactions can be perceived as judgmental.

The exercise is a balance between deep self-reflection and fun. Both parties learn a lot about each other while refreshing who they are. 

When debriefing:

  • Reflect on the exercise
  • Address the difficulty of getting into the deeper layers
  • Notice that some people feel confident identifying with their job and others with their family or relationships
  • Ask participants what they learned about themselves and others
  • Invite them to reflect on the experience. How did they feel? What was comfortable? What was challenging? How did they react to what people were sharing? How did they feel about not being able to interrupt or provide feedback? How did it feel to continue having to address the same question?

The "Who are you?" exercise is a great icebreaker for team building or launching a new group. It can also be used with friends and family members, or within an existing team, to strengthen bonding.

 

Additional Reading

How to Increase Self-Awareness and Be at Peace with Yourself

Is Not What You Are But Who You Become That Matters

 

What do you think?

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