No one is listening to your icebreaker

“If you were an animal, what would you be?”

Your mind races, heart pounds and chest expands. “An ANIMAL?!” you think to yourself. “What sort of question is that?”

Your brain is in overdrive trying to think of the perfect response.

You search for something that is intelligent and relevant, with a hint of wit. You want to give the best impression possible.

An impression that says “I’m smart, thoughtful and also funny.”

Suddenly it’s your turn.

You clear your dry throat, open your mouth and go with: “Ummm, well everyone’s given SUCH good answers so far… I think I’d be a…. Giraffe… Because they’re, um, tall and, um, so am I”.

You laugh nervously then bow your head to the floor, staring at the carpet and kicking yourself for giving such a ridiculously stupid answer.

“A giraffe?! What the f&*k were you thinking?!”

Ah yes, the dreaded icebreaker.

On the surface their intentions are good. Typically to get perfect strangers to know one another and, as the word suggests, break the initial lines of communication.

Unfortunately this is rarely the reality. Instead, they’re too often treated as a chance for us to talk at one another and say something we think will make us look good in front of our peers.

A chance to show off all of our best traits, to adopt a confident posture and put on a mask that gives the impression we’ve got everything under control.

But let’s be honest, you don’t have everything under control, do you? And neither does anyone else.

And while we’re being honest, no-one even listened to your dumb answer about the giraffe.

They were too busy worrying about what they were going to say, to impress you and the others in the room. 

So what if the point of an icebreaker was the opposite?

To get people to see each other and to hear eachother, in a real, vulnerable, human way? To highlight the hard parts, not the best parts?

Instead of:

  • “What animal would you be?”,
  • “What do you do with yourself?” or
  • “What’s a strength of yours?”

What if instead, we asked:

  • “What does the voice of your imposter syndrome sound like?”,
  • “What are you afraid of?” or
  • “What’s the hard part for you right now?”.

Because vulnerability is not weakness.

It is in fact, the opposite.