My friend Kaytlynn recently wrote about things that make her feel uncomfortable that totally shouldn’t, all of which I could completely relate*.
*Follow her blog. If you like mine, you will love hers.
The first of those things was ice breakers. You know, those “games” that bosses, trainers, or orientation leaders use to start a group session in order to get everyone relaxed and acquainted with one another.
Ice breakers aren’t too distressful for me. My heart rate increases a bit as it nears my turn, but otherwise, I don’t fear saying a sentence or two in front of a group of strangers.
Most of my anxiety comes from listening to the other people. I can’t stand watching someone crash and burn.
As a result, I find myself smiling in moral support as they sheepishly try to describe to the group their love for different types of shoes.
“My name is Katie-Lee and I love shoes,” a red-faced girl says to the group, though she only looks at the discussion leader.
“I mean, I’m not like obsessed with shoes,” she corrects herself. “But I have a lot.”
She’s crashing. And burning.
“Not, like, a lot of shoes. But more than most people.” She shakes her head and then adjusts her hair, guiding it back behind her ears, as if that will put her back on track.
“I’ve been collecting them for a while, and I have so many that I don’t really wear them that often, so they don’t wear out. And my feet stopped growing when I was, like, seven. So I’ve had a lot of time.”
And I’m just standing there, nodding my head emphatically, as if I completely understand what she’s talking about. I don’t have a clue, of course. But I hate seeing this kind of social awkwardness, and I just want it to be over for her.
And for us.
My awkward smiling and nodding has turned it into less of an ice breaker and more of a support group, and all I want to do is convey the fact that none of us are judging her because none of us give a shit about what she is talking about in the first place.
Which kinda defeats the purpose of ice breakers.
The most damning piece of evidence in the ineffectiveness of ice breakers is the fact that everybody pays attention to the first guy, but nobody pays attention to the last guy.
It is really an issue of nerves. Everyone listens to the first guy as a litmus test to discover the type, quality, and quantity of information that is given, as well as the sentence structure under which the information should be said.
It’s like Mad Libs:
“Hi, my name is _____________ and I am from _____________ and in my spare time I like to __________________.”
Once the structure of the statement is actually set, everyone mentally checks out. They stop listening to the next person and instead begin formulating what they are going to say when it is their own turn, trying to come up with the perfect factoid to share that will make themselves seem interesting, but not too weird… and then tweaking it as they half-listen to the other people offering their factoids.
By the time the last guy is taking his turn, nobody is listening anymore, because there is really no reason to. Everyone else has already taken their turn, and the gunk in their fingernails is going to be more interesting than whatever it is that he has to say.
And then it gets back to the discussion leader, or The Ice Queen as I like to call her. She has saved herself for last, and looks up to the sky to retrieve her own “fun fact,” as if she hasn’t been planning what she was going to say for months.
I can’t say I blame her, though.
When it is my turn, I have three interesting facts already in mind. They are my go-to interesting facts, and if you don’t have them, I suggest that you do. It should be something quirky that can be guaranteed not to be said by someone else. And it has to be something that makes the other half-listeners lift their heads quizzically, hopefully making them completely rethink what they were going to say. Preferably, it should be something that makes someone want to ask a follow-up question.
Here are my three go-to fun facts:
- I can solve a Rubix cube in two minutes.
- When I was eleven, I won a contest and illustrated a book about smoking cessation.
- I own a square inch of land in Texas.
- The singer Meatloaf said that I was the nicest boy he has ever met.
Those are actually four fun facts. One of them isn’t actually true. I’ll let you guess and I’ll post the answer next time*.
*Unless I forget, because I probably wrote this two or three weeks ago and waited to post it until today**, in which case please remind me.
**But your “today” is actually my future and my “today” is your past. I suppose that such a thing can be applied to all correspondence between reader and writer, but I just wanted to point out that me, right here in your past, is literally saying “hello” to you, as in …………….. Hello Future Reader!
Anyway, the next time I’m in an ice breaker, I think that I’m gonna switch it up and say something else instead of my go-to-3.
Something that everyone is sure to remember.
Something like, “I like to collect baseball cards, and I also have anal fissures.”
While it might not achieve the desired result of making things less awkward, it would certainly break the ice.
Note from the author: While writing this, I did not actually know what anal fissures were, and I made the grave error of being in “Image Search” mode while Googling it. If you also don’t happen to know about anal fissures and want to research it, please, don’t make this mistake. The tab is actually still open at the top of my browser, and I’m scared to click the “x” because I’m not sure if that will make it pop up for a split second before it closes.