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PERFECT PHRASES for ICEBREAKERS
Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases to Set the Stage for Productive Conversations, Meetings, and Events
By Meryl Runion, Diane Windingland
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Excerpt<h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p><b>WHY: Purpose-Driven Icebreakers</b></p> <br> <p>Begin with the end in mind." You've heard it before. But what does that mean for icebreakers? It means two things: First, know what you want the conversation or meeting to accomplish. Second, based on that, know what you want your <i>icebreaker</i> to accomplish. These phrases will help your icebreaker do the heavy lifting of opening your interaction or meeting in a way that will lead to the desired outcome.</p> <p>Note that this section contains many more phrases intended for groups, marked with a diamond, [??], than many other sections. It also contains many phrases to start activities. Those are marked with the movie clapper symbol: [??].</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Highlight the Conversation or Meeting Topic</b></p> <p>What is the meeting about? The meeting organizer can publish a meeting PAL—statement of purpose, agenda, and length, and use a topic-centered icebreaker to focus attention on the conversation or meeting subject. That way you'll be talking about the same thing.</p> <p>• Thanks for meeting with me. I'm curious, why did you accept my offer to meet to discuss (topic)?</p> <p>• What interests you about (topic; example: social media)?</p> <p>• How long have you been (studying, using) (topic; examples: organizational change, social media)?</p> <p>• When you (saw, heard, discovered) what this meeting is about, what thoughts did you have?</p> <p>* Who was told they had to be here today?</p> <p>-> What went through your mind about the topic?</p> <p>* If you created an e-mail subject line about this topic, what would it be?</p> <p>* Why have you come to this meeting? What brought you here?</p> <p>* We're here to talk about (topic; example: leadership). I find that means a lot of different things to different people.</p> <p>-> What does it mean to you?</p> <p>-> How do you define (topic; example: <i>leadership</i>)?</p> <p>-> How does your perspective on the topic differ from most people's?</p> <p>* What do you want to explore about (topic)?</p> <p>-> What do I need to know about (topic)?</p> <p>-> What about (topic) lights a fire in you?</p> <p>-> What do you know about (topic) that other people don't know?</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Uncover Assumptions, Desires, and Expectations</b></p> <p>Do you need to know what people want? What people know? What people expect? Well, ask! Use an icebreaker to uncover assumptions, desires, and expectations.</p> <p>• I'll cut to the chase. What can I do for you?</p> <p>• I know why I'm here. I'd like to know why you're here. Can you tell me what you hope to get out of this?</p> <p>* Imagine you have a magic wand. What would you like to change by the end of the (conversation, meeting)?</p> <p>* Let's go around and fill in the blank.</p> <p>-> One thing I'm hoping to learn today is ____________.</p> <p>-> One thing I find confusing is ____________.</p> <p>-> One thing I'd like others to learn today is ____________.</p> <p>* What are your outcomes and objectives for this (conversation, meeting)? Please write the answers to these questions.</p> <p>-> What is you fondest, dearest wish for today?</p> <p>-> What are you hoping to get out of today?</p> <p>-> What would make this discussion a success for you?</p> <p>-> Let's go around and share our objectives.</p> <p>-> Did you notice I asked the same question three different ways? That's because different ways of phrasing questions evoke different responses. I really want you to walk out of here with what you came for.</p> <p>-> What will you contribute to the success of this session?</p> <p>* I'm going to role-play something. Ready? (Stomp in the room, slam the door, sigh heavily, throw a book on the table, and peer at the group).</p> <p>-> Describe what just happened?</p> <p>-> How do you know that's what happened?</p> <p>-> What part of what you described is objective? How do you know?</p> <p>-> Did you directly observe that?</p> <p>-> What did you directly observe?</p> <p>-> How many of you found it difficult to separate your observations from your interpretation of your observations?</p> <p>-> How common is it for us to make assumptions without realizing we're doing it?</p> <p>-> How can we keep fromm doing that today?</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Get People to Focus on Outcomes</b></p> <p>There are times when banter, small talk, and tangents are useful. Other times, it's distracting. When the conversation or meeting needs to maintain a strict focus, these opening phrases will help.</p> <p>• As much as I enjoy checking in before getting down to buusiness, today we need to focus if we're going to (outcome; example: create an action plan.)</p> <p>• Let's start by picturing ourselves walking out of this meeting happy with what we did here. What did we accomplish?</p> <p>* Let's stay focused on our task of (purpose) today. We have a lot to accomplish, and I'm committed to our finishingggg on time.</p> <p>* We only have time for half an icebreaker today. That will leave us (30 minutes) to review, brainstorm, and decide what to do.</p> <p>* Let's go around the room and speed share names today. Then we'll turn our brains like lasers to (focus).</p> <p>* We can visit and stay late, or we can focus and get out of here on time. I'd love to visit, but I know my priorities. How about you?</p> <p>* We chewed on these topics extensively last meeting. Today we are here to decide. I expect this to go quickly.</p> <p>* There are a lot of issues we could talk about. Today we need to focus on (topic). If we get off track, we'll mark and park the tangent and get back on track. The tangents we'll address later.</p> <p>* Who wants to get out of here on time? We can—if we stay focused.</p> <p>* If any of us smells a tangent, let's bring it back to focus on the outcome. It's not being rude; it's being efficient. So plug your nose if you smell a tangent and we'll refocus.</p> <p>* Let's break into groups of three. Each group is tasked with deciding what you want to get out of this (meeting, event). Pick a leader to present the desired outcome according to your group.</p> <p>-> Let's hear what others had to say.</p> <p>-> How did your group reach consensus?</p> <p>-> Now go back to your groups, and see if any of your outcomes have changed from what other groups said.</p> <p>-> Now decide what each of you intends to do to make sure you get what you came for.</p> <p>-> Did being asked to take action to ensure your outcome change anyone's desired outcomes?</p> <p>-> What kind of actions did you come up with?</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Build Rapport</b></p> <p>Have you ever had someone get down to business too quickly? Kind of like you're all a bunch of machines instead of people? How'd that feel to you? A simple icebreaker designed to build rapport can grease the wheels for subsequent communication. These phrases create a quick sense of commonality, relationship, and trust.</p> <p>• Finally we meet! I've really been looking forward to putting a face to your e-mail address!</p> <p>• I wanted to meet with you because we both care a lot about (topic; example: the success of this project).</p> <p>• I've really been looking forward to this meeting and talking with you about (topic)!</p> <p>* Who else had been curious about what it would be like to actually meet in person?</p> <p>-> I hope I look the way my voice sounds!</p> <p>-> Do I look like my e-mails?</p> <p>* Have you ever experienced (some common experience that you are having; example: technology not cooperating)?</p> <p>* We'll be working with new technology today, so this might take a group effort. Who brought a sledgehammer?</p> <p>* What did we do the last time we were in this situation that really worked?</p> <p>* We didn't create this situation (example: this economy) but we're in it together. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather have on my team for support in a situation like this.</p> <p>* We have different roles in this project, but let's start by defining our common commitment.</p> <p>-> Why do we care about this project?</p> <p>-> What are we all committed to doing here?</p> <p>* Let's start by sharing a motto, a phrase or saying that you live by. Something like: "Say what you mean and mean what you say without being mean when you say it." That's one of mine. What mottos do you like?</p> <p>* Let's begin with everyone asking their neighbors their name, what they came to learn, how they see (situation), and what expertise they bring. Be ready to share what you learn.</p> <p>-> We'll start with (name). Please introduce your partner, his or her perspective, and his or her expertise.</p> <p>-> (Name), it's payback time. I mean, time to reciprocate!</p> <p>* We're going to tune in by matching and adding to actions. I'll start by patting my head. The person on my right then will pat his or her head and add a new motion. The person on the right of that person then will mimic the first two motions and add his or her own—and on and on. Got it? Here goes.</p> <p>-> How many did we complete?</p> <p>-> Did you find it fun, frustrating, or both?</p> <p>-> Who had a strategy they used to remember that could be useful to the rest of us?</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Inspire Collaboration</b></p> <p>Survival of the fittest is programmed into us in many ways. We often unconsciously take adversarial stances. Open in a way that invites—and involves—collaboration.</p> <p>• We have a choice. We could argue and negate each other to defend our own positions, or we could listen and discuss different perspectives in ways that support each other and move us forward together. I know what my choice is.</p> <p>• I suspect we have two things in common: we haven't been looking forward to this meeting, and we want to make things work for both (all) of us. Am I right?</p> <p>• We've been at odds on (issue). What will it take for us to work together?</p> <p>• I regret not having this conversation sooner. I think we've been working at cross-purposes and we need to work together.</p> <p>* Have you ever had a situation where everyone worked together like magic?</p> <p>-> What made it work?</p> <p>-> Why did it feel like magic?</p> <p>-> What can we apply here from that?</p> <p>* What do the phrases "looking out for each other" and "having each other's back" really mean?</p> <p>-> When have you experienced that before? Please be specific.</p> <p>-> What helped create that kind of collaboration?</p> <p>-> What kept that kind of collaboration from happening?</p> <p>* I need one person who favors (one option you're meeting to discuss) and one person who favors (an opposing option).</p> <p>-> Sit across this table from each other. Get in arm-wrestling position. Now go!</p> <p>-> OK, we'll go with the winner's idea. Makes sense, doesn't it?</p> <p>-> Of course we wouldn't make an important decision by arm wrestling. However, that's what we're doing when we let the most aggressive person or the person with the loudest voice overpower the reasons behind our options.</p> <p>* Let's think of ourselves as the guardians of each other's success here.</p> <p>-> What does that mean to you?</p> <p>-> What would you like for it to mean to the people on your team?</p> <p>-> Are there systems in place that get us working as adversaries when we need to work cooperatively?</p> <p>-> Let's do a quick exercise. Turn to your partner.</p> <p>-> Partner A, make a fist. Show your fist to Partner B.</p> <p>-> Partner B, see that fist? Try as hard as you can to open your partner's fist.</p> <p>-> Now switch. Partner B make a fist. Partner A, try as hard as you can to get your partner's fist open.</p> <p>-> How many of you were able to open your partner's fist without resorting to tickling or bribery?</p> <p>-> How many of you thought to ask your partner, will you please open your fist?</p> <p>-> And those of you who had your fist closed, what were you holding on to? What kept you from being the guardian of your <i>partner's</i> success and allowing your partner to open your fist? Were you looking out for your partner or just looking out for yourself?</p> <p>-> Now, I set this exercise up to trigger competition. I confess. And you still had the choice to work collab-oratively. Let's applaud those of us who worked collaboratively. Now let's applaud the rest of us for demonstrating the normal response to this situation.</p> <p>* First, I'd like each of you to write a work-related challenge, problem, or area you'd like to improve on the top of the sheet in front of you. For example, "How can I build rapport among team members who have never met?" Then pass your sheet to the person on your right.</p> <p>-> Now take 60 seconds to write possible solutions to the challenges that are passed to you. I'll time you and tell you when to pass again.</p> <p>-> Pass! (Continue.)</p> <p>-> Does everyone have his or her own sheets? Please take two minutes to review what you have.</p> <p>-> Tell us what ideas you like that people offered.</p> <p>-> Let's use each other as resources to handle our challenges.</p> <p>* We'll start with an activity to build teamwork. Without talking or mouthing words, please line up according to how long you've been working here.</p> <p>-> What did you do that worked?</p> <p>-> What could you have done to be more efficient?</p> <p>-> Did someone take a leadership role? How did they do it? Was it useful?</p> <p>-> I didn't give a lot of direction. What interpretive decisions did you have to make in implementing?</p> <p>-> How'd we do as a team?</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Pique Curiosity in Your Message</b></p> <p>Can you think of a time when a speaker or author had you sitting on the edge of your chair wondering where he or she was taking you? A teaser can be a great way to start a meeting or conversation. You can open with a statement or remark that leaves your listener(s) wondering what's coming. Use words like "what if" and "surprises." Here are a few icebreakers to hook your listeners' curiosity.</p> <p>* What if everything you know about (topic; examples: communication, mold, sales) is a lie? I'm going to tell you something today that will surprise you.</p> <p>* Would you like to create a future distinct from the past? We're going to discover a way today. Well, it sounded good at the Tupperware meeting I attended.... And I actually think it's possible.</p> <p>* I realized the reason why we're here isn't the one I originally thought it was. More on that later. Now I'll proceed with the original agenda.</p> <p>* This isn't going to be a routine meeting. You'll learn something unusual. But first, let's lay the groundwork.</p> <p>* If you ever wondered about (topic; example: how they slice hot dog buns when they are joined together in the package), you're in the right place. Really! I'll explain later.</p> <p>-> If you never wondered about (topic), you're about to wonder why you never wondered about it.</p> <p>-> I thought I knew about (topic; example: design software), but then something happened that showed me how wrong I was. But first ...</p> <p>* You're about to become an expert in a topic most people know little about. And that tells you how little most people actually know about it!</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Expand Limited Mindsets</b></p> <p>Life consists of contradictions, opposites, and ironies. It's easy to get locked into one side of the equation or the other. For example, "Look before you leap" sounds prudent, yet there are many who would counter by saying, "He who hesitates is lost."</p> <p>Conflict is often a result of being stuck on one side of a polarity. Directly addressing contradictions, ironies, and oddities is both intriguing and useful for helping people expand limited mindsets.</p> <p>• Let's imagine our customers are sitting at the table with us as we talk today.</p> <p>* Let's look at common truisms that seem to contradict each other, such as "out of sight, out of mind" and "absence makes the heart grow fonder." You name some, and I'll list them.</p> <p>-> How can maxims that contradict each other be true?</p> <p>-> What kind of seeming contradictions do we face at work?</p> <p>-> How can we resolve these?</p> <p>* Let's list oxymorons. That includes things like "a fine mess," "act naturally," "bittersweet," "burning cold," or "chaotic organization," "deliberate error," "executive decision," "pretty ugly." You get the idea.</p> <p>-> How do seeming opposites like this actually make sense?</p> <p>-> Where are you living or working with seeming opposites and making it work? I can name an example: my marriage! You?</p> <p>* In "The Allegory of the Cave," Plato discusses the lives of a group of people chained in a cave who can only see the outside world via the shadows reflected in the flickering firelight. From this they deduce what the outside world is like. Everyone is in kind of a cave. I am a (white woman, black man, etc). That is one of my caves. We're all human beings on the planet earth. That is our collective cave. Our worlds are full of caves.</p> <p>-> Tell us about a cave you work or live in.</p> <p>-> If you live in a very different cave from other people, how does that affect how you hear what they say?</p> <p>-> What caves do we work in here?</p> <p>-> Who should we consult to get perspectives we are missing in our caves?</p> <p>-> How can this cave allegory help us hear people's words in a different context?</p> <p>-> Now imagine one person escapes and sees the outside world, then comes back to the cave to tell the others what she or he saw. For me, it's a bit like what happens when one of us attends a powerful conference and tries to share the experience. What would you relate it to?</p> <p>-> Do you think the cave residents believed him or her?</p> <p>-> Why or why not?</p> <p>-> What could she or he do to persuade them?</p> <p>-> Do you have a mental block against people who return to your cave with new information?</p> <p>-> How can you break that mental block?</p> <br> <p><b>Perfect Phrases to Transform Resistance</b></p> <p>Many of the martial arts, like tai chi, redirect the opponent's force instead of resisting it. The goal of good martial artists is to not have to fight. They dissolve, redirect, and transform opposition in ways that keep it from escalating.</p> <p>• I've heard the best defense is no defense at all. I know we're on opposite sides of (issue). I'd like to hear what you have to say without me defending my situation at all. Are you willing to talk about it?</p> <p>• The best way out of a mess is through it. I'd like to sit side-by-side with you, looking at the issue together, and walk through it with a mutual goal of getting to the other side. Are you open to that?</p> <p>-> Some say the best defense is no defense at all. Find a partner. Partner A is the person with the most jewelry on.</p> <p>-> Partner A, think of an issue that bugs you. It could be traffic, someone who doesn't follow through—anything that gets under your skin. Got it? The only thing is, if your issue is with your partner, choose another one. I'm going to ask you to complain to your partner without trying to be fair. Am I clear in my explanation?</p> <p><i></i>
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