Breaking the Ice in Getting to Know Others

Tanis Harms, Community Learning Network

0 8 22 October 2019

Breaking IceThis past summer I attended a First Aid course for recertification. As I arrived in the training room, I noticed those who were there were focusing on reading and completing a test – already! I quickly sat down and started on the test…nervous not only about whether I would pass it, but also curious as to who all of these 30 or so strangers in the room were. After the tests were completed, the instructor gave a brief introduction of herself and then jumped into how to help saving lives.  In fact, I didn’t meet another participant or learn their name until we were literally saving a life together (albeit a plastic one).

Though not a life and death situation, I realized how cold and uncomfortable the atmosphere was for the full two days of the training – not knowing any names except my “partner in crime life saving” and the instructor. It occurred to me how often we underestimate the power of getting to know others – whether it’s a new learner walking through our CALP office door, a co-worker or fellow staff member, or a new CALP staff in our region.

But how can this be done?

If you’re not naturally an outgoing person like myself (I have had to learn how to go against my comfort zone and learn how to interact with others as an introvert)…here are a few tricks to try.

In a Group Setting

1) If you are in a leadership role (Coordinator/Director/Facilitator/Instructor): Build in an icebreaker for each time you meet with your group.

Icebreakers are a facilitation strategy that can be short, long, simple or complex, but the goal is the same – to cut out that awkward/cold feeling in a room (get it? ICE breaker!) and help everyone warm up to each other through interacting in a fun way. It’s a way to kick-start building relationships.

There are tons of icebreaker options and ideas all over the internet, and a few are included in one of our favourite CALP resources: Creating Learning Partners (page 9 & 10). Remember that you don’t need to follow the directions for them as is – feel free to adapt it to what fits best with your group and purpose.

Some people think that an icebreaker is only important the first time a group gets together, however I am a strong believer that icebreakers are important to use each time a group gets together. Relationships need continual encouragement to grow!

Here are some additional reasons to use icebreakers from Creating Learning Partners:

  • If people start by saying or doing something that is familiar and nonthreatening, they are more likely to relax.
  • If they use their voice in the room to say something that comes easily, they are more likely to speak up during the session.
  • Icebreakers can help people begin to know more about others in the group, with the freedom to choose how open they wish to be.
  • Icebreakers create an opportunity for people to begin to learn about one another.
  • Each participant should be free to choose how much they wish to share.
  • Icebreakers should build trust among the participants.
  • Icebreakers can set the stage for the content of the session while creating comfort and building connections.
  • A variation on icebreakers is “energizers”, which usually involve some kind of body movement that is fun and non-threatening. We can use them to stimulate energy at the beginning of a program or during it.

Breaking ice2

2) If you are not in a leadership role: divide and conquer.

It can feel pretty overwhelming to meet a large number of people you don’t know or to open up in a big or even a small group (for example, InterAgency meetings or Culture of Collaboration events). Break that big group down into sizable portions like one or two, and get to know those people. Eventually, your comfort with a few may spread to growing comfortable with others in the room as well.

 One on one 

1) Come armed with some great open-ended questions.

What are open-ended questions you may ask? They are questions that cannot be simply answered in one or two words, rather questions that require a more in-depth answer. 

  • Having trouble finding those great questions? Download our list of “Q” Activity Questions from the Symposium and pick a few favourites. The sources we used for that activity, if you’re looking for more or different questions were: 3000 Questions About Me and Connect Offline: Card Game.
  • In your CALP office, you could build your own kit of questions to keep at your desk or coffee table to help get to know those that come into your space in a fun and relaxed way. A couple of simple go-to open-ended questions I like to use are:

 - So what do you like doing when you’re not working?

- How did you get interested/connected with __________? (an organization, event, hobby, person, or whatever other commonality you have with them)

2) Focus on really listening.

We’ve all had those conversations with someone who is “listening” to you…while texting, looking around the room or past you, or providing that “glazed over” look. When someone takes the risk of sharing a bit of themselves with you, be present with them and really focus on listening to what they are sharing. It is by listening that you can carry on the conversation! I am speaking to myself here too – often I start thinking about what I want to ask or say next, rather than really listening to what is being shared…it’s tough work to be a good listener!

Breaking ice 3

3) Build the conversation on what people share.

Once someone has opened the door a crack in the conversation, sneak your foot in!  If they share about something they have done recently, ask a question to dig deeper into that topic. A great way to build on the conversation are starting your next questions with more open-ended statements such as:

  • Tell me more about….
  • You mentioned…could you expand on that for me?
  • When you said…what did you mean? Or why is that?

Breaking ice4

 I would love to hear the getting-to-know people tips and tricks that have worked for you and/or favourite icebreakers you use – please share them below!

Tanis Harms, CLN
North Regional Support Staff


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