Why we all discriminate – Method of the Month: Sticker Discrimination

As trainer and facilitator, we often face complex concepts like discrimination and we uhm and ah about how to facilitate a personal reflection on such a difficult topic with our participants. We want to avoid platitudes like “I do not discriminate as I believe in equality”, “Only people who are racist/sexist/abelist/… discriminate” or “I am a woman/PoC/… so I cannot discriminate”. Many participants have a hard time to think beyond these platitudes and are unconscious of one basic fact: As we live and operate in a discriminatory society, we are likely to act unconsciously in discriminating ways

A simple discussion of different definitions will certainly not do the job. On the contrary, a full-on simulation might not fit in the allocated time slot within your training. This is where my first Method of the Month will come to your rescue! The method is based on “Labeling Ourselves” publish by… in ….

“Sticker Discrimination” is a short and impactful simulation that confronts participants with rules and tasks that are aimed to trigger discriminative behaviours. After mixing the participants up by standing up and walking around, the trainer invites them to close their eyes. She walks around and marks the participants’ foreheads with different stickers. Some are left with no stickers. She now instructs the group to form smaller groups according to two rule: they are not allowed to speak and can only create groups of maximum four people. [Pro tip: Variate the number of people so participants can not split evenly]


Participant waiting with closed eyes. [picture: IUSY]

Once the groups are formed, they are tasked to think of why they grouped up, what they have in common and what makes them better than the other groups. After the presentation of each group, the trainer calls the participants back in the large circle to facilitate the debrief. She helps the group to reflect on the process of the group building and forming a group identity. Did they follow a particular strategy? Where there moments of comfort or discomfort? How did it feel when someone was left out? How did this person feel? What were the power structures within the process? What did the stickers represent? Why did they stick to/break the trainer’s rules? How does this simulation relate to reality and the societies we live in?

I used this method in my last training “Equality start with us! – Youth promoting inclusive societies and global citizenship and opposing violent extremism” for the International Union of Socialist Youth in cooperation with the Council of Europe. We were already on our second day, and it was the start of several session on the topic of discrimination that would be later connected to the reality of refugees. On our first day, we worked mostly on the issue of identity which my co-trainer and I used as foundation and point of reference for the debrief.


Participants trying to form groups without speaking. [picture: IUSY]

In my opinion when facilitating this method the trainer already needs to be established and recognised by the group as a leader. Otherwise, the power of the rules is weakened, or participants who are facing discomfort might just leave the exercise. We choose to use a harsh and authoritarian tone to instruct the participants and not to react to approaches during the group phases. Further, we interrupted or shut down groups during their presentation and even skip one group’s presentation entirely.

Looking at the outcomes, we as facilitators were surprised that even so, we worked with a group of left-leaning political activists how ‘easily’ they fall into behaviour patterns that embraced the rules given. Not one person broke the rules or rebelled against us as facilitators. The initial group forming happened really fast, and most participants expect that they finished their task, but participants did not realise that one person was left alone. This lack of awareness shocked many of them. They were so eager to figure it out and fulfil the trainers’ expectation, that they did not question the broader context of the exercise. In the debrief the participants were able to relate this to their real life and the fact that many people do not discriminate consciously but blindly follow the rules and authorities and therefore establish and maintain a system of discrimination.


Participants are discussing how the exercise relates to discrimination in real life. [picture: IUSY]

Possible variations could be replacing the stickers with roles or attribute. The roles could relate to the context of the living reality of the participants like professions, gender, sexuality, education, religion or ethnicity. The attributes could be different forms of greetings or movements. If you are working with a multi-ethnical group, the rule of not speaking could be replaced by only speaking in one’s native language. The debrief could be connected to a group work phase, in which the participants have to relate the structures of the exercise to common hatreds like sexism, ableism and racism.

I am convinced that “Sticker Discrimination” is a powerful and with 30 minutes relatively short exercise on discrimination. It offers a different approach to understand the mechanism of especially structural discrimination and by being non-verbal invites shyer or participants with a more substantial language barrier to take an active role in the group‘s learning process. The discomfort experienced during the exercise enables a more profound reflection.

As always leave me questions and remarks down in the comment section below. I truly appreciate you taking this time out of your day to discover the world of Affective Facilitation with me. And I would be of course delighted if you decide to share it with someone!

Love and Appreciation,



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