“Raise your hand if you think we have a lot in common.”
I start every training class with this fun meeting icebreaker. Without fail, only a few hands go up.
I typically speak to people who are starting their careers in sales or management. They read my bio as the guest speaker and see all that we don’t have in common.
Few grew up where I did or went to my college. Most are younger and haven’t compiled my experience. Some see only that I’m a white guy with kids; others make assumptions about my wealth or status.
People are wired to look first for differences. We assume you are not part of our tribe until convinced otherwise.
For this reason, I use a simple icebreaker where everyone tells me their favorite food, music, and the last vacation they took. As each person speaks, I share personal parallels.
This is easy because I love to eat, listen to many genres of music, and travel frequently. By the time we’ve finished, I’ve shared everything about my family, friends, hobbies, and interests.
Then I ask my initial question one more time and inevitably, most hands go up. I do this fun meeting icebreaker to frame the mindset of the class.
Whether you think you have much in common with someone or very little in common, you are correct.
Humans See The World As “Us” versus “Them”
Evolution plays a large role in how we view new people who come into our world. For thousands of years, those humans who survived were careful, cautious, and suspicious.
Until proven otherwise, their brains saw new people as threats. They learned to distrust differences and gravitate towards similarities. This often starts with physical appearance but extends to our likes, preferences, hobbies, and social status.
Human brains balance two primordial systems. One section of the brain generates fear and distrust of unfamiliar things. The other gives rise to pleasure and feelings of reward to things we trust.
What kept us alive in the stone ages can now hold us back professionally. After all, we no longer need to worry about other humans beating us with a club and stealing our bear pelts.
Distrusting new contacts prevents us from building our network. It shows up when prospecting for new clients. New teams take too long to gel, largely because of perceived differences and a lack of trust.
This can all be overcome with focus.
“He’s a different kind of dude.”
In my first sales role out of college, I had opportunities to take clients to Chicago Bulls games in our company suite. Whenever I was presented with tickets, I brought customers who I felt would enjoy the experience most.
I brought customers who followed the Bulls and spent time downtown in their free time. This was an easy choice given that I enjoyed these type of events and conversation was much easier.
Several customers backed out for one game and I was stuck with tickets on short notice. My boss suggested that I call one of my steel mill customers in Indiana.
“Dave Trumbo? He won’t want to come to Chicago. He’s a different kind of dude.”
My boss pushed back and asked me what I meant.
“He lives on a farm out in Indiana. I don’t think he follows any sport and it would take him two hours to get to the city. Dave would rather be out with his dogs, hunting racoons.”
Of course, these were all things I couldn’t relate to at all. Dave and I could not have been more polar opposite, but I called him nonetheless. And I was shocked when he accepted enthusiastically.
Over the course of that game, I got to know Dave much better. And we had much more in common that I thought. We both went to college in Indiana, drank the same brand of beer, shared a love for 60s muscle cars, and we both married Polish girls.
From that moment on, Dave went from a good customer to an amazing customer. I got 100% of his business as we learned to trust each other more. We learned that we had more in common than we had differences.
A Fun Icebreaker For A Meeting
Teams with high employee turnover have not learned to trust their leader or their teammates. I’ve written about how to approach the employee turnover dilemma but this icebreaker can work with teams in any stage of development.
Break your team into groups of two, and make sure the pairings are made up of people who are not currently close with each other.
Give the groups ten minutes to find as many commonalities with their partner as possible. There are no rules. Each pair simply needs to ask questions and find things that they have in common.
Explain that after ten minutes, one person from each team will report out on all of the areas they found in common. Let them know that the group who digs deepest will win a prize. Competition amps this exercise up a notch.
The pairs need to do nothing more than ask open-ended questions.
- Where are you from?
- Tell me about your family.
- What did you do last weekend for fun?
- What trips are you looking forward to next year?
- Where did you work before you came here?
I love this icebreaker. Walking around the room, you will hear things like:
- “I have two older brothers too! Aren’t they the worst?”
- “My husband and I took our honeymoon in Mexico also! When were you there?”
- “Oh my God, my girlfriend is crazy about cupcakes too. What’s your favorite kind?”
- “I saw Rise of Skywalker too. I liked the original trilogy better. How about you?”
This fun meeting icebreaker reinforces the importance of connections in business. We might have titles but in life, we are just sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family, and friends.
If your team struggles to connect, it might be a function of your bias and effort. Ask questions, look for commonalities, and help them adjust their mindset.
For those who fail to grasp this in a sales or leadership role won’t be in that position for long..
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