Behavioral Science / Management Science

Four Classic Definitions of “Role”

The Practitioner

In preparation for the August series on “Myths & Realities: Roles and Their Overlap,” The Practitioner explores the topic of “roles” in a broader context.

According to various dictionaries, there are four classic definitions of “role. ”

  1. A character assigned or assumed, e.g., he had to take on the role of both father and mother

    Go here for a quiz from to find out what role you play in your family. Could be interesting to use with clients – or create your own quiz if this one seems to US centric.

  2. Proper or customary function, e.g., a socially expected behavior pattern usually determined by an individual’s status in a particular society, family or other group.

    Go here for some recent research on gender roles – and be prepared to be surprised.

  3. A function or part performed especially in a particular operation or process, e.g., she had to play the role of negotiator.

    Go here for an article from the Harvard Business Review on the danger of clarifying overlapping roles in teams.

  4. An actor’s part in a play,  movie, etc.

    Go ahead – play against type and read about the overlap of humor and psychosis in comedians.

    Or here or here to take some lessons from “method acting.”

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