Thank God September is over so we can be done with icebreakers

Monday, October 1, 2018 - 6:04pm

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Illustration by Christine Jegarl

File away those fun facts. Time to forget your “two truths and a lie.” And cherish the fact you won’t have to participate in another team building exercise involving a hula hoop. We have officially survived peak icebreaker period. Breathe.   

September is over. The month of new beginnings is behind us. The flower calendar on my grandmother’s refrigerator has flipped to October. Those awkward first days of classes and inaugural club meetings have morphed into hopefully a more authentic dynamic of human personalities. Or, if things are still awkward among the 20 people in your discussion section, you can at least take solace in the “31 Nights of Halloween” on Freeform.

As someone whose first impressions rarely parlay into an effortlessly charismatic “knock your socks” off kind of introduction, the icebreaker is a walk on thin ice. If I could, I would prefer to stick to the facts you could probably find on Facebook. Name. Hometown. Year. Major. There you have it folks. That’s all you need to know about me. Anything more than this will likely result in an answer that I will promptly spend the next 48 hours regretting. Do we really need to continue with that question about my best Halloween costume?  

That is the trouble with icebreakers. To excel at them, it is essential that you have a curated list of anecdotes encoded in your brain. A quippy story about yourself that your publicist would tell you to share if you were a scheduled as a guest on Stephen Colbert’s TV show. Or does the publicist make up the story for you? In that case, I think I need a publicist.

The sort of answer that is universal enough to be relatable, yet personal enough to be unique. Your response should garner a laugh, but not make people feel uncomfortable. And of course, you should never look like you are trying too hard, but you also can’t give a cop-out answer. People want to you to “be yourself.” To sum up how cool you are in a sentence. It is a tall order. Essentially, you are expected to be like Ferris Bueller when all I can usually muster is something closer to Bridget Jones.

The formulaic nature of icebreakers typically means forming a circle to foster a safe, welcoming space reminiscent of a second-grade classroom. Everyone sits waiting for the person who had this great idea to pose a question they likely found via a Google search for “good icebreaker questions” 30 seconds prior. Then the moment of truth — what question will you have to sift through your brain to find an answer to?

“What’s your favorite movie?” Okay, this is not too bad. Not as easy as your favorite place to travel, but still a softball question. I begin to flip through the movies I have watched to find an acceptable answer. I find myself only half-paying attention to the person droning on about “Moonrise Kingdom,” buying me a few more precious seconds to think. As my turn creeps closer and closer, the panic sets in. I struggle to even remember the last movie I watched, let alone my favorite. The only movies that come to mind are “Mamma Mia” and “Gone with the Wind.” Great. I will either sound like a lover of cheesy British musicals or a cliché film buff. I decide to place my faith in Meryl Streep. Just before it is my turn to speak, the person next to me echoes “Mamma Mia.” My subpar answer I had spent the last five minutes agonizing over is now taken and I am back at the beginning of not knowing what to say. Oh, the joy of icebreakers.   

Icebreakers have become the creed of how we get to know each other. Their relatively simple nature is the reason they have become a mainstay of meetings and introductions. However, I am surely not the only one who dreads these awkward engagements. They are unnatural. Full of pauses and silence. And often include glaringly obvious reactions from the group.

That said, I am absolutely guilty of the judgment that ensues when someone offers an icebreaker response that seems unnatural or forced. It can be strange when the first thing you learn about a person is their favorite karaoke song or best gift they have ever received. What are we really supposed to glean from these responses? Some would argue that icebreakers offer a way for people to find a connection in their mutual similarities. However, considering some of my own friendships with people whose tastes are completely different than my own, I question this argument.

Learning the faces and names of the people you meet in September is important. But, I don’t think we should hold people to their icebreaker responses. In all honesty, most of my responses make me cringe for hours afterward. I agonize over why I couldn’t think of a more interesting or genuine answer and hope no one remembers what I said. Introducing yourself shouldn’t require a list of favorite things that you can sing on cue like Maria von Trapp. However, that might be a good idea for next September.