Being the “icebreaker” at work can feel as hard as it sounds sometimes. We don’t all plan to be icebreakers, but sometimes the situation is just screaming for a conversational heroine.
You might be on a work trip with colleagues who barely know each other. Maybe you find yourself in the quiet few minutes before a meeting starts waiting for the tech to be ready. Sometimes you’re leading the first-day orientation filled with nervous newbies. Or, you’re just looking to connect with your coworkers and the pandemic has made everyone’s social skills a little rusty.
Breaking the ice can be simple, fun, and purposeful. It’s not about getting to know everyone on a deep level; it’s just about making people more relaxed. With this list of icebreaker questions specifically for work, you will always be prepared to ease the tension.
First, let’s look at what not to talk about when you’re in need of light conversation at work. Since breaking the ice is about making people comfortable, there are a few topics to avoid.
Bad icebreaker topics for work
A poll by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports 42 percent of employees have had a political disagreement in the office, and an American Psychological Association study found that 21 percent of surveyed employees said they felt more cynical and negative during the workday because of political talk at work. All reasons that make politics a no-go for icebreaker questions. Reserve conversations like these for designated spaces, like employee resource groups or town hall meetings dedicated to tackling more challenging conversations.
Religion doesn’t have to be completely off limits all the time, but if you start asking questions about someone’s faith, you risk putting them on the spot in a way they’re not comfortable with. If they think they’re being labeled by their religion, that could cause problems if they feel they’re treated differently than other employees. There are plenty more ways to get to know someone other than asking about religion.
Even if there’s a toxic coworker on everyone’s mind, it’s not a good look to start gossiping in the kitchen when you’re getting to know someone. Those are the kind of unhealthy workplaces we’re all working to get rid of.
It’s one thing to say “are these springtime allergies bothering you, too?,” but prying into someone’s medical history is way too personal of a topic to kick off getting to know someone. It also might be something people are trying to not think about while at work.
Being physically intimate
No matter how “relaxed” your workplace is, you might be making someone extremely uncomfortable with this topic. Just avoid it altogether.
Instead, here are some of the best icebreaker questions for different work-related scenarios.
You’re new. You’re excited! It feels like first grade again and you wonder who could be your lunch buddy. While you’re waiting for the HR meeting to start and want to kill time, use this list of icebreaker questions to get to know your new coworkers.
- What do you do here?
- What did you do before this?
- Do you have a long commute?
- Know of any good lunch spots nearby?
- Know of any good coffee spots nearby?
- Are you from [this town/city]?
- How’d you hear about this job/company?
Read more: How to Introduce Yourself Professionally
You’ve been there a few weeks and are starting to get to know everyone. You can “break the ice” further with icebreaker questions that show people’s personalities a bit more than “from around here?”
- Do you have any pets?
- Do you have any siblings?
- Did you ever play an instrument?
- What was your first job?
- What did you study in college or have you taken classes in?
- Where’s someplace you want to visit and haven’t yet?
- Do you prefer the country or the city?
- Do you have a go-to restaurant or cuisine?
- Do you collect anything?
- What was the first concert you went to?
- What’s a concert you would pay a lot to go to?
- What was your first car?
- Did you have a toy you were obsessed with as a child?
- Who was your best or worst teacher?
Read more: How to Play “Two Truths and a Lie”
This is for when you want to get creative and not too serious.
- What if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
- What if you could choose one superpower to have, what would it be?
- If you could meet one famous person and hang out for the day, who would it be?
- If you could be an Olympic athlete in any sport, what would it be?
- If you could be fluent in any language you aren’t fluent in now, what would it be?
- If you could vacation in one spot for a week and money was no issue, where would you go?
- If you had to move to any other state, where would you go?
- If you could be the country’s go-to expert in anything (besides your job), what would you choose?
- If you could suddenly time travel, where would you go first?
- If you could’ve named yourself, what would you have chosen?
Chances are you’re going to cover who has seen “Stranger Things” or whatever the show of the moment is, but here are some other faves to tackle.
- What’s your favorite meal?
- What’s your favorite show?
- What’s your favorite movie?
- What’s your favorite book?
- What’s your favorite musician/group/band?
- What’s your favorite artist?
- What’s your favorite animal?
- What’s your favorite sport or hobby?
- What was your favorite vacation?
- What was your favorite school subject?
Consider removing the pressure of picking a “favorite” and instead asking for any “good” or “memorable” movies/shows/books, etc. Ask me my favorite artist and I might get self-conscious about my lack of art knowledge, but ask me if I follow art and I’ll say I don’t, but I did visit Monet’s house in France when I was 16, and now we're chatting. Not everyone has a favorite everything!
One more thing—since the goal is to ease tension and not create it, don’t give people a hard time if they don’t have an answer or if you strongly disagree with theirs. Keep it fun!
Read more: 40 ‘Fun Facts About Me’ for Networking