Icebreakers — a review of how to meet new people in the most awkward way possible

What building on Grounds would you date and why?

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We’ve all been there — you just got into a new club, dorm or even a class, and they ask you to do a stupid icebreaker that makes you cringe with discomfort. It might be a classic like “name, year and hometown!” because that’s so revealing. Or maybe if it’s a more intimate group, you might branch out with “two truths and a lie.”

Since I arrived at the University as a first-year, I’ve heard some pretty awesome  — and some pretty horrid — icebreaker suggestions. A personal favorite of mine is “What building on Grounds would you date and why?” My classic answer: The French House, because it’s structurally attractive and probably has an accent. Another guy’s answer? The Dells, because they’re twins.

Another fun, albeit non-University-themed one I’ve heard is, “People think I’m cool, but…” Honestly, no one thinks I’m cool — especially the kids I teach once a week at the local middle school. I tried this with them and in unison they cried, “Katie, you are not cool. None of us are cool. We are in debate club.” It was all very sad.

What’s the point of these icebreakers anyway? I posed the question to my roommate, who immediately replied, “To cause me physical pain by stirring up my social anxiety, of course.” The immediate answer is that we want to get to know each other better. But do I really know you if I manage to remember that you’ve been skydiving twice? That you lied about having an identical twin?

Maybe we should just ditch the icebreakers and make everyone come to their first Quidditch practice, hall meeting or ENWR discussion with 14 copies of their deepest-kept secrets to pass out. Better yet, save paper and create a Collab resources page to upload them. That way everyone can read them before said practice, hall meeting or ENWR discussion and be ready to match a name to the baggage every person carries with them.

Isn’t that the goal of icebreakers anyway? To get to know one another in substantial and memorable ways? Otherwise, we just have a weird “fun fact” labeled on each person’s forehead everytime we see them, but we can’t even remember their name. It’s Karen, right?

Maybe a better way to actually get to know the people on your team, on your hall or in the discussion section that only meets once a week is to actually get up and have a meaningful conversation with someone you might not get to engage with otherwise. Would it be awkward, shocking even, to go sit next to someone you don’t know and ask them their greatest fear? Probably. Could it result in your finding your new best friend? Could be. You never know if a mutual feeling of existential dread and a looming fear of eyelash curlers can be the glue that bonds a friendship. On the other hand, it could also make you that weird kid that has no concept of personal space or societal norms.

Another way to improve icebreakers might be to structure them to hit on a deeper level, to foster intelligent and meaningful conversation that brings together a group of strangers. Maybe a question like, “If you had a million dollars to give to a charity, which charity would you pick and why is it important to you?” If that’s too heavy, perhaps a slightly less personal question like, “What’s your favorite movie and why?” While we aren’t solving world hunger over here, coming up with more meaningful, relatable icebreakers is something our world could use.

All this being said, fun fact icebreakers aren’t all bad. I met a girl with a birthmark shaped like a sheep eating from a bush on her arm and a guy who owns 11 hermit crabs. Do I remember their names? No, but when I see hermit man at a table as I walk through Newcomb, I always remember his weird thing for hermit crabs. However, hermit crabs don’t make lasting connections. If we, as seasoned veterans of the icebreaker and future leaders of clubs and teams, begin to ask the deeper questions in order to foster bonding, maybe we can get to know each other better and form more substantial connections. You’ll find out about their weird thing for hermit crabs later. 

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