The human brain is wired to make snap judgments about strangers. In fact, someone you meet for the first time needs just seven seconds to categorize you as a friend or foe and start interacting with you accordingly. That would be all well and good if you were living in a cave and hunting woolly mammoths or saber-toothed tigers. However, in business, we consistently need to work with strangers, including staff, customers, and clients. So, to facilitate effective connections and conversations with strangers, you should ask appropriate icebreaker questions.
‘Icebreaker’ means to ‘break the ice’ between people, and it is a common term in business and education. Icebreakers are an important part of the “getting to know you” toolkit. What’s more, they help establish a congenial working, learning, or even interview environment. Icebreaker questions can be fun and light or serious and probing, depending on the situation in which they are used, but what might seem like a simple technique should not have its power underestimated. Here are some of the best icebreaker questions you can ask in various business situations:
# Icebreaker questions for meetings
# Icebreaker Questions for Meetings
Meetings are the most likely situation where you’ll use icebreaker questions. Set aside 15-20 minutes if people meet for the first time. If the gathering is a regular occurrence, 5-10 minutes at the start should be enough time for the warm-up.
1. If you’ve traveled overseas, what’s your favorite place you’ve been to?
2. What was your first job? What did you like/dislike about it?
3. What is the best business book you’ve read? Why did you like it?
4. What was the last documentary you watched? What did you learn?
5. Why are you here today?
# Icebreaker Questions for Job Interviews
Interviews are tough gigs — for both the interviewer and interviewee. As the interviewer, you have around one hour to work out whether the candidate has the skills and experience you need and will “fit” with your team. As the interviewee, you have the same amount of time to find out more about the role — and whether you want to take it. These icebreakers can be used by both parties.
6. What are the leadership qualities you most admire? Why?
7. What learning have you undertaken recently? What learning opportunities does this role offer?
8. If money were no object, what would you do with your time?
9. Who is the one person you have empathy for at the moment, and why?
10. Have you lived in another country? What were the highlights and lowlights? If you haven’t, would you consider living somewhere abroad?
# Icebreaker questions for workshops
Workshops, seminars, and professional development sessions offer great opportunities for asking fun work-related icebreaker questions. Most people attend such meetings with a positive mindset, looking to network and learn something, so you can be a little more relaxed about your icebreakers.
11. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
12. What is the one thing that people would find surprising about you?
13. Who would play you in the movie of your life?
14. Are you a dog or a cat person? Why?
15. Would you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert? Or a mixture of both?
# Icebreaker questions for new staff
Being the new kid on the block can be daunting, awkward, and uncomfortable. To begin with, you need to learn how the timesheet system works. However, your team also needs to figure out your personality. Also, to settle in your new job easily, you need to know where the best place to get coffee is, what the office gossip is, and how the boss likes to communicate. Asking and answering icebreaker questions that are not just related to work will help.
16. What’s your signature karaoke song?
17. Are you a morning person?
18. What’s your favorite thing to do when you don’t have to do anything? Netflix and chill? Reading? Hiking? Helping a local charity? Walking the dog?
19. What’s your favorite social media app?
20. What charity do you regularly donate to and why?
# Icebreaker Questions for Zoom Conferences
The pandemic has forced millions of employees around the world to work from home. Now, if you’re facilitating a Zoom meeting for the first time, it can be awkward to open a conversation with people that are miles away from you. So, here are some icebreaker questions that will help everyone become comfortable in the virtual meeting:
21. What does your home office space look like?
22. Honestly, how often do you send emails while lounging on the sofa?
23. How many cups of coffee or tea do you need to get your day started?
24. What does your usual work-from-home uniform look like?
25. Once the pandemic is over, where do you plan to travel?
# Icebreaker Questions for Team Building Events
When you hear the term ‘team building icebreakers,’ what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? You probably see images of cringeworthy ‘get-to-know’ games. However, choosing the right team building questions can turn the situation around and make the event engaging and fun. Here are some ideas:
26. Would you rather be a member of the Avengers or the Justice League?
27. What fictional team do you consider to be the best?
28. Do you think the Spice Girls would make a good espionage team?
29. What is your biggest accomplishment as a member of a team?
30. What is your earliest memory of teamwork?
The next sets of icebreaker questions aren’t specifically applicable to business and work. However, they’re guaranteed to shatter the barrier and get people to talk comfortably. After all, isn’t that the point?
# Icebreaker Questions Related Hypothetical Situations
It’s always harmless fun to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes – such as Queen Elizabeth’s. If there is nervous awkwardness among colleagues in an initial meeting, icebreakers related to hypothetical scenarios may shake off the uneasiness. Here are some questions to ask:
31. If you could choose any two famous people—dead or living—to have dinner with, who would they be?
32. If you could trade places with a cartoon character, who would you choose?
33. If you could choose a person from history to be your best bud, who would it be?
34. If you had the gift to learn any language in a second, what language would you choose?
35. If you could choose a new name for yourself, what would you pick?
# Icebreaker Questions That Encourage Community Building
Corporate responsibility is also critical in any business environment. So, you should consider squeezing community building topics into your icebreaker questions. Here are some simple yet impactful ideas to help you:
36. Can you name one person in your community that makes a difference?
37. What’s something nice you’ve done for someone today?
38. What’s a good way to give back to the community?
39. What is the best example of a community you have seen?
40. If you could go back in time, what integral part of history would you change?
# Icebreaker Questions for the Holidays
Throughout the year, there are several holidays that your employees go through. Now, if you are managing a remote team, your employees may feel isolated because of the nature of their work. It can make them feel acknowledged if you talk about Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or any event celebrated in their region. Here are some holiday icebreaker questions:
41. Have you ever told a child that Santa isn’t real?
42. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
43. What is your go-to song during the holidays?
44. What is the first gift you remember receiving?
45. What is your favorite holiday?
# Icebreaker Questions Related to Fame
Employee burnout is a real issue in companies. So, it shouldn’t be all work and no play in the office. It’s also a good idea to use some icebreaker questions that will let your employees imagine what their life would be like if they were famous. Here are some ideas:
46. If you were to become infamous, what would be your crime?
47. What would be your autobiography’s title?
48. If you were to host a late-night show, who would be your first guest?
49. If you could be on a reality show, which one would you pick?
50. If you could trade lives with a celebrity, who would you choose?
# Icebreaker Questions About Food
What’s great about food is it is such a relatable topic. So, if you use icebreaker questions related to it, people can comfortably and easily join the conversation. Take a look at some examples:
51. What’s the strangest and weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
52. If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
53. If you were a vegetable, what kind would you be?
54. What are your three favorite beverages?
55. What is the one dish you can proudly say you can cook so masterfully?
# Icebreaker Questions You Should Never Ask
Remember that there are some inappropriate icebreakers you should never use. While your intentions are not malicious, the following questions may be offensive to the people who will hear them:
56. What’s your religion?
57. What is your salary?
58. How is your love life?
59. When are you getting married?
60. How old are you?
Icebreakers are the perfect tool to forge connections, start conversations, and facilitate the process of community building. Simply cherry-pick the questions that work for you — you don’t have to stick to categories. Just enjoy the process of getting to know each other and building trust.
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