let’s discuss terrible workplace ice-breakers

There are some truly terrible ice-breakers out there. On a recent open thread, some readers shared these:

 “What is your porn star name?” For a meeting on addressing sexism in the workplace.

 One really dysfunctional company I worked for did a staff retreat and made everyone go around and say what bug they would be if they were a bug. My coworker said he would be a dung beetle “because all day long I’m dealing with shit,” then he got up and left and didn’t come back.”

• “Tell us something unique about you that no one else knows.” We had been ordered in on a Saturday because they wouldn’t take weekday time for an all hands department meeting. A male coworker said, “Oh, hmmm, I know! I stripped to earn money for my graduate degree!” A woman hoping to break the dumbfounded silence said, “Oh, that’s where I know you from!” He said, “No, no, honey, you wouldn’t have been at that club.” Our webmaster, who was next to speak, said, “I’m good! He wins.” And no one else would say anything else.

“Describe your worst date.” It got very uncomfortable when people gave too much physical detail.

And who can forget this one:

For a 9 a.m. Monday morning training last week, the facilitator opened with, “Tell us your name, your team, how long you’ve been with the company, and a ‘scar story.’ Pick a scar on your body and tell us how you got it. If you prefer not to talk about a physical scar, you can tell us about an emotional scar.” I am not joking. As we went around the room, there were lots of blood and guts stories (gross) but people also shared really traumatizing tales, like an infant daughter being diagnosed with leukemia. The whole thing took 30 minutes of a 90-minute session.

Let’s hear more about terrible ice-breakers you were subjected to at work. Please share in the comment section.

{ 1,178 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Point of clarification: This post is about ice-breakers (short activities done at the start of a meeting), not team-building exercises (which can be its own separate horror show).

    1. Victoria*

      I attended a very senior team meeting at a non profit I worked at (which I have dozens of terrrible stories about….). My CEO was in charge of the ice breaker, and she bought a quiz she had purchased from Pop Bitch called “Enid Blyton or Erotica”. It was the most embarassing thing I have ever sat through – trying to choose if titles like The Naughtiest Girl In School, The Adventures Of Mr Tootsie Pole, and Granny’s Lovely Necklace were 1950’s childrens books or porn.

          1. Dhaskoi*

            The first and last ones are Blyton.

            The middle one appears to be a trick question, since there’s a noddy book with a similar title.

          2. E. Chauvelin*

            I just assumed that the way for this to be funniest (although still completely inappropriate for most* workplaces) would be if they were all Blyton.

            *It wouldn’t be inappropriate if the workplace was in the business of erotica, for example. Probably the only example.

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      I really hate “tell us something no one knows about you.”

      Why would I tell colleagues things that I haven’t told the people in my actual life?

  2. frustrated_trainee*

    They made us take one of those personality quizzes that’s something like Meyers-Briggs but isn’t Meyers-Briggs, and it defined you as one of four categories: bold, sensitive, analytical, and I forget the fourth. Then they made us print out our type, put it on the back of our chairs, and we were instructed to address everyone as their TYPE so that we would work better together.

    I got “bold”. People who had never had any issue interacting with me started approaching me like I was a bomb that could go off any minute.

    One of my friends got “sensitive”. People started coming up to him going “hey there, big guy. How’s it going? You feeling okay? Are you feeling like you could do a work thing right now?” Like he was five.

    The test didn’t even differentiate for score #s like i was only one more point in bold than I was in all of the other categories but people still had to treat me like I was “bold” like my boss who got all points in that category.

    1. frustrated_trainee*

      I should clarify this *was* done as an icebreaker at a meeting, they just made us stretch it out into how we interacted with each other all the way up until I left

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        Wait, do you mean the rest of the meeting you had to interact with people like that or like the entire time you worked there?

        1. frustrated_trainee*

          the entire time i worked there! I’m not entirely sure if this qualifies as an ice-breaker for that reason, but it was used as the first 15 minutes or so of a meeting where we went on to do other things, and then we had to keep those little cards taped to the back of our chairs, and treat each other differently, the entire time i worked there

          1. Event coordinator?*

            That feels like some sort of 1960s psychological experiment. Did you become “bolder” since everyone treated you that way?

    2. Green Tea*

      Ugh I hate those stupid tests. Our entire org did one that was like ‘dominance,’ ‘analysis,’ ‘influence’ and ‘supportive.’
      I raised concerns during the “discuss and share” section where we had to tell people our results that I felt our organization didn’t value these four traits equally and I didn’t love that people had to “out” themselves to their colleagues. This is an org that rewards extroversion about all else, so ‘influence’ and ‘dominance’ were the sexy ones. I was an ‘analysis’ and I guess I am lucky I didn’t get ‘supportive’ since, as a woman and former admin (still haunting me many years later), that’s already a perception I struggle with.

      What is up with orgs trying to pigeonhole people into reductive categories that basically create bias?

      1. The Shenanigans*

        Cynically, I’d say that businesses use these so that they can be as biased as they like and justify it with “science.” Less cynically, and perhaps more accurately, I’d say they are lazy. they are looking for shortcuts to actually managing, talking to people, etc., and it works out about as well as any other shortcut. That is, it costs far more in time and effort than just doing it right in the first place.

      2. Pippa K*

        I know it’s not the main problem, but is anyone else as annoyed as I am that the bs categories aren’t even the same parts of speech? Nouns or adjectives, people, make a choice and stick with it!

            1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

              I may or may not be the person who wailed “some of these are nouns and some of them are adjectives!” at an executive retreat where we were voting on the values that best represented our work unit (it came down to a vote between “teamwork” and “supportive” aaaaaaargh)

            2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              Me four!
              I worked at a translation agency and one of our silly pastimes was playing bingo with the clichés our boss used to trot out, grammar mistakes and all.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          Yes Pippa I am too! To me it highlights exactly how unscientific these things are.

      3. Jill Swinburne*

        That’s DiSC, and it can be a great tool if used correctly – which your company was not. It’s not meant to pigeonhole people, it’s meant to give insight into communication styles, without any assumption that any are better than others, so people can interact more effectively. Goddamn I hate when good tools get so misused.

        1. I swear this is true*

          DISC is marketed *now* as a way to get insight into communication styles. But its origin story is kind of wild. It was invented by a BDSM aficionado who turned his kinks into a psychological theory (no coincidence that the acronyms share two letters) and who also created Wonder Woman. Whose lasso is also related to DISC.

          It blows my mind every time I encounter it as a corporate psychology tool.

          1. Random Dice*

            Ha ha ha what?!

            I knew about the kinkster behind Wonder Woman (and you can never unsee that, she really does get tied up a lot).

            But not about DISC.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          So if used correctly, it would help you because you’d know how best to communicate with your colleagues: Jane prefers a quick email, while Fergus needs a full-scale department meeting or he won’t take it seriously.
          I expect it’s a bit like love languages, where people will then abuse it by saying “acts of service is my love language so I WILL perform acts of service for you whether you like it or not”, whereas they should be seeking out their partner’s love language and showing their love in a way the partner will understand and appreciate.

      4. frustrated_trainee*

        I also find them to have entertainment value and not a *ton* else for individuals because the questions are so vague they’re almost arbitrary for me to answer sometimes. I DO find value in being aware of how different people think and act and allowing that to change your opinion of what something they do might mean, but that would generally come from close teamwork after some time, not from a personality test

    3. JMR*

      We did something like this, and whoever planned the thing neglected to take into account that we are an entire company of scientists. Shocker, 99% of us came out as Analytical.

      1. Bossypants*

        Ha! I work in a similar area and, while I’m analytical, I always end up as Dominant in these type of tests. Last time we did this as an icebreaker, I was the only “Dominant” in a room of “Analysts” and spent the rest of the meeting with people talking about how hard it is to deal with “Dominants.” Fun times!

        1. influence but not an influencer*

          This happened to me, too, in a leadership training for higher ed where we did DiSC at the beginning of the year long workshop. All the faculty got Conscientiousness and said they wouldn’t want to work with someone who got Influence (me. I was the I).

          1. eee*

            a fun fact about DiSC is it was based off of studies by the same psychologist who wrote Wonder Woman. And it’s originally based off of sexual behavior in humans.

            1. JustaTech*

              Ooohh….
              That’s the one of those things I’ve ever found useful, and it was only useful because it gave my two closest coworkers and I a framework to have a conversation about how we communicated (talk/email) with each other and identifying two very specific thing the other two did that really upset the other.

              Oh I can’t wait for an excuse to tell them, they’ll think it’s hilarious!

        2. Bob-White of the Glen*

          If I get labelled a dominant at work, you’d better believe I’m bringing a whip.

            1. Bob-White of the Glen*

              LOL, I wanted to reply, but even here in jest I can’t stomach the thought of trying to make my coworkers call a partner “slave xyz” or “subbie xyz”. At least no one I work with will ever see me tell them to call someone master or other. ;)

          1. Dr. Marston*

            That would be entirely faithful to the origins of DISC, although a lasso would be even more appropriate.

      2. Reed*

        / Years ago we did Myers Briggs. They bought in an outside specialist person and everything. He… he had no idea what to do. He had this entire presentation planned on how extroverts (the statistical majority among most people? I think?) should be more understanding towards the few introverts in the group. We, the ENTIRE room, twenty people, were introverts. His mind was blown.

        Bless his heart, we were an academic library though.

      3. Nea*

        That is honestly hilarious to me, in that it’s (for once) accurate and also points out how useless this kind of pigeon-holing of personalities is.

        1. Mongrel*

          You may like The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Merve Emre.

      4. Auditor*

        I had a similar experience! I’m a performance auditor and some of my coworkers and I took the Real Colors personality test just out of curiosity. Turns out, a group of auditors is almost universally either Green (data oriented) or Gold (rules and organization oriented). Who could possibly have guessed!

        1. zuzu*

          My sister had to do an exercise like that when she went into management in her publications group. She was one of the very few Reds: no-nonsense, get things done. Most people were Blue or Yellow, more creative types, which is not surprising, given that they were full of editors and graphic designers.

          They did the typing a few weeks before the conference where they gathered all the new managers from around the country with the existing management team and the facilitator encouraged them to share their colors with each other as an initial icebreaker. Because this group is basically a bunch of high school girls, cliques quickly formed, and the Blues and Yellows decided the Reds were outcasts. All before the team meeting even started.

          This culminated in a second icebreaker exercise at the meeting that devolved into one of the Blues dissolving into tears and accusing my sister the Red of being utterly, utterly cruel and insensitive and so very RED about the Blue’s dog dying. Which…my sister hadn’t said anything about, and no one would believe her despite all of them being there. The facilitator even joined in.

          The Blue came to her senses when she realized that my sister the horrible, horrible Red was the one whose project had all of the available work in the company and if she didn’t figure out a way to deal with my sister, none of her reports would ever get billable time again when their own project was slow, which would reflect badly on her. Of course, she didn’t come to this realization until after she made a scene in front of the entire management team.

          Somehow, my sister’s leadership was shocked when she decided that management was not for her.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            I’m sorry your sister had to endure that in real life, but I would totally watch the crap out of this as a movie; I’m envisioning a sort of next steps, mid-twenties Mean Girls. I would especially enjoy the part with the dawning realisation from the antagonists that it’s bad business sense to be clique obsessed.

        2. Jess*

          This is the stupidest one, except for Clifton Strengths. We got to do both! for a “leadership summit” . i stated that my results were probably skewed because i answered neutral for almost all the questions as both the questions and responses were developed by white men in the 1960s and i perceived them as filtered through a lens of patriarchal imperialist capitalism and its norms and mores (plus I considered it pop psychology absurdism but i was trying to be diplomatic). I am a thoroughly modern lesbian Gen Xer.

          The response was “they thought of that and took it into consideration”. M’kay.

          With Alison being the exception to the rule, HR is the 9th circle of the Inferno in that it attracts the sorts of demons who would inhabit that realm.

          Oh yes, let me not fail to mention, that for the Real Colors outcome for our team brand new team of 10ish, a Woman of color was the only “orange”, and the “notable example” of another “Orange” in a leadership role was the 45th president of the U.S. Yep, there was his big head up on the screen. The silence was deafening, the facilitator was completely clueless as to the effect this had on her morale in the group.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            >almost all the questions as both the questions and responses were developed by white men in the 1960s
            >The response was “they thought of that and took it into consideration”.

            My personal strategy for this sort of thing is to come back with a perky “That’s so GREAT! What a relief! Could you send me a citation on that? I’d love to read up on it!” (without adding “because for a moment there it sounded like the company is recommending we publicly judge each other based on unsound and culturally biased corporate astrology!”)

            If I say it enthusiastically enough, no one calls me a jerk for demanding proof, and in a best-case scenario, the person making the spurious assertion gets embarrassed, or at least flustered.

            1. Ermintrude (she/her)*

              ‘Corporate astrology’ is a great way to describe this sort of guff.

          2. Pippa K*

            “they thought of that and took it into consideration”

            Ha, yeah, no they didn’t and no they didn’t.

            I hate these things.

          3. Cranky-saurus Rex*

            Ha! I really wish I’d had your line about the development of those pop-psych quizes a couple of months ago. I was working as a consultant at an organization that leaned heavily into Clifton Strengths — but as a consultant I wasn’t eligible to have them pay for the quiz for me. I had to go to a team onsite within my last few weeks on that contract. I was being let go for budget reasons when originally I’d expected to stay on a few more months. And in the “team building onsite day” when I really needed the time to wrap up my deliverables, I instead had to sit through an icebreaker about top strengths and share “I don’t know, I guess I’m good at XYZ but I haven’t taken that quiz”

          4. An Extremely Fresh Start*

            My department did true colors. Several of us were the same group, and one person, an individual who wants to be perceived as, hm. Level-headeded, competent, data-driven, and generally sciencey? Was the only one who was …blue? which was basically “sensitive and artsy.” The person stopped the meeting and redid their test to get a different result because they could not abide being thought of as sensitive.

            (They are, in fact, probably in the 95th percentile for being a person who perceives slights and feels that other people are being critical of them even in the most benign of scenarios. Stopping the meeting so we could all be shown how not sensitive they are about their sensitivity was extremely on-brand)

        3. Not an orange*

          I had a job where the head of our department was orange and so were most of the people who were her “favorites”. Us green and gold people seemed to be the ones who leave so she is slowly ending up with 20+ people who constantly change their mind and strategic tactics… to be fair, they are otherwise a fairly diverse group but having a whole staff of orange people can’t end well.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Thanks for giving me a new tool to play with, I’m Green. (Never would’ve guessed either/s, haha!)

        5. Office Lobster DJ*

          Opposite experience here, having done Real Colors in employee training at a summer camp. Everyone was Blue and Orange. For the rest of the exercise, they made me join the two lonely Golds to make Team Grold.

          1. Anonymous for Today*

            I was an RA in college. The two main groups were Blue and Orange. Then Green, then Gold (I am a gold). The three of us (on a staff of 30) grew quite close when we were always a team. (Green was only ahead by 1 or 2 people iirc.)

      5. Dark Macadamia*

        We did the True Colors one when I was an orientation counselor for incoming college freshmen (so, like, a somewhat appropriate environment because it’s basically “summer camp for new adults” lol) and, shocker, the kind of people who volunteer to talk to peers about their feelings for a week are overwhelmingly Blue (the sensitive category)

      6. Tau*

        This happened before I joined, but at a former job I heard horror stories of the personality test slash team building event that went along similar lines. The problem was that after the personality test was an exercise involving the group dividing up with everyone in a given personality type standing in the same coloured area. The organiser had not considered the fact that 95% of participants might end up scoring as the same personality type, and so the whole thing turned into an impromptu and unwanted game of Twister as the entire team attempted to squeeze into way too little space. My coworkers were not amused.

      7. Quill*

        Lol. Reminds me of when the lab team went to a golf driving range and was asked “did you learn about healthy conflict and healthy competition?”

        No, but we derived a great statistical rule of thumb to figure out how much better novice golf players get after two hours of practice, and are busy testing it further.

    4. Velawciraptor*

      Based on the first three (which could be summarized as Griffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw, respectively), I’m betting the fourth type was Slytherin. Good gravy…

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I thought of the Hogwarts meme where the founders are discussing the four types of children, “Brave, clever, evil, and miscellaneous”

          1. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

            I am also a Hufflepuff, and I think miscellaneous sums me up pretty accurately!

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            The world needs more Hufflepuffs! Y’all are loyal and trustworthy. Captain America is a Hufflepuff. Griffindors are flashy show-offs. Yeah, I said it.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Dimension 20 has a show called Misfits and Magic that critiques the Harry Potter ‘verse. The four houses are “heroic, villainous, genius, and the other 80% of 11-year-olds”.

          The main characters are pretty horrified that instead of getting “evil” 11-year-olds psychiatric help, they have them live together with “evil” adults.

          1. MsM*

            I’ve resolved that if anyone asks me to do Hogwarts sorting, I’m just going to say “Goat House” and make instant friends with anyone who gets it.

              1. Magicbag*

                This has just made my day so much better (and worse as I just giggled out loud (in my very quiet office) and now had to explain my very nerdy hobby and the wonder-insanity of Dimension 20!
                (I have however the solidarity of one of the IT team who loves Evan Kelmp’s speech before the duel)

          2. Yeah I teach Middle School*

            Pretty bold to assume that every 11 year old on the planet won’t be Slytherin

            1. Quill*

              Maybe not a listen at work, from what I have been told about it. (I don’t think it’s too racy on stage but I got my info from a teen.)

    5. Problem!*

      My old company made us do something similar, but the results were in pie chart form and we were required to display them in our cubes so our colleagues knew how to communicate with us. It was so dumb and unnecessary.

    6. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      they had colors for ours like gold was organized, blue was emotional and green was investigative. my boss was quite confused that both of us were green. but sadly I was not gold ( this is the reason of all my problems)

    7. Ann Onymous*

      At least you got assigned adjectives that describe personalities. We did one of these where the categories were birds, so everybody was either an owl, eagle, dove, or peacock.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Now I’m thinking of clutterbug and its organization styles based on insects. But at least that’s not considered to be about your whole personality.

      2. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Was it supposed to be “owls are wise, eagles are bold, doves are kind, and peacocks are flamboyant? Or just random?

        I’d want to be an Owl just because I like them….

        1. NeedRain47*

          Oh haha this sounds exactly like what our “chief of staff” (head of operations is more descriptively accurate) was talking about when we happened to have a conversation about these types of personality tests a few days ago. He was an owl. I would also likely be an owl.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Oh haha we did the birds one in my college, too. One I was halfway between Owl and Dove, and my boss was jealous of the Owl part because he thought that, as a professor, he would be an owl; he was an eagle.

          My other coworker was halfway between Dove and Peacock, so for a while she referred to herself as a DoveCock

        3. Jill Swinburne*

          The birds are used in DiSC to illustrate the four styles: eagle is D, peacock is i, dove is S, owl is C. I wonder if that’s what they did.

        4. goddessoftransitory*

          My first word was owl, and I used to collect little ceramic owls. Clearly I understood myself at a young age.

        5. Zircon*

          Yup, that’s the basis of it!
          I was the manager of a team and one of the team members brought it to me. We went through it as a team, looking at all the combinations and talking about it beforehand. We were all pretty sure that we knew what each other was before we did it. The programme that we had had a whole lot of extra information – what these sort of people are motivated by, what makes good rewards, how to present new ideas, tips to communicate. We all used that information and continued using it. We had a lot of fun with it and laughed a lot too. That was probably the first step in our journey to becoming a really great, high performing team. We were very diverse and when we talked, it became clear to everyone that was one of our strengths, so we embraced our oddities and our normal people and our quirks, and talked about all of it openly. I moved on from the team, but over the years (25 since then!) I have run into various team members – and they have all said that was the best team they have ever been part of. That is something that I am very proud of.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        I heard of one that was shark, whale, dolphin and owl. Apparently, if your first reaction is “wait, why are three of these sea creatures and one’s a bird?”, you’re an owl.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          That’s not pedantry, though, which is what I assume would make it an owlish characteristic, it’s basic pattern matching. We’ve been doing that since Sesame Street. “One of these things is not like the others…”

    8. Chilipepper Attitude*

      My grandboss did one of those at a leadership workshop. she decided we should bring the speaker to our library to do it. BUT, before we did the test at our library she decided that I was a “detail” person and gave me projects based on that. Spoiler: I was not a “detail” person in that system. I was a “strong” or “leader” or something like that (just like her). Also spoiler, libraries don’t tend to have a lot of people who score strong or leader.

      1. NeedRain47*

        I am also a librarian- we did Strengthsfinder at my old job. Literally everyone had either “learner” or “input” as one of their strengths. (learner is more in depth; input is liking to know a little about a lot of things, which is me.)

      2. yala*

        I’ve known people who would think the “detail person” is a prerequisite to library work.

        (I’m great with minutia and horrible with details, but I’ve made some work-arounds to help my detail-focus)

    9. christy7h*

      an old job, we did the colors one. I was one color, and the other 9 people on the team were the polar opposite color. The facilitator was trying to say nicely how that can lead to disfunction on a team (we were in this training because it was a disfunctional team- 3 team members refused to talk to anyone else on the team, ever, and worked quietly with their doors closed. the boss knew and allowed it to happen for years). As part of the discussion, we had to say how we felt about working with the other colors. My boss, at the time, said it was “exhausting” working with the other colors (i.e. Me.).
      I left. The boss was eventually demoted. I’m C suite elsewhere now.

      1. It’s Suzy now*

        Working with 8 “sames” sounds way more exhausting to me than working with a variety of types, but what do I know?

    10. Starfleet HVAC Engineering*

      I miss the personality quizzes that used to be on OKCupid, back before it was just another Match/Tinder clone. They were at least funny, and had just as much scientific backup as the Meyers-Briggs (i.e., zero).

    11. Janye*

      We had to take the Myers-Briggs with the promise that our scores would not be shared previous to a work retreat. One of my colleagues took it exactly opposite to how he felt in protest.

      At the retreat, a rather perky and pesky outside consultant immediately started ordering people to go to different sections of the room based on their scores.

      For good or ill, my table was filled with people that didn’t feel like sharing our scores, so we stayed put.

      The consultant thought we had forgotten our scores, but we said we didn’t feel like sharing. She had no answer and proceeded to give the pop psychology diagnosis of the different classifications in Myers-Briggs.

      The head of our area did come and talk to us malcontents, but fortunately did not go to the point of formal reprimand.

  3. Panda*

    The mid year meeting we had last week started with a skipping competition. Yes, we had to skip across the room and were judged on how well we skipped. The person who won did some weird TikTok skip I knew nothing about.

    1. Hosta*

      What did they do about people who can’t skip? I’m recovering from a nasty knee injury and…OK, I actually could skip one or twice, but then I’d fall over and need recovery time off and get to go back to physical therapy which sucks but was also a lot of fun..

      … did anyone take advantage of this golden opportunity to really stick it to the company?

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Workers Comp claim reason: forced to skip in a meeting despite previous injury, previous injury exacerbated.

        1. Hosta*

          Oh, good point. They’d have to pay for some psych therapy too, because I’m already very bitter about slipping in used toilet water at work and busting my poor knee.

          1. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

            I’m sorry but you can’t just leave this here and not tell what is probably a bat-guano crazy story.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Walk out of the room and say, “I’m skipping this meeting.” I’d award them first prize.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I’m getting vibes of Creed’s “strike, scream, run” exit on The Office

    2. Cam*

      I wonder if they thought of people who may not be able to skip? I sure can’t due to muscle myopathy, but I’m sure there’s plenty of other reasons some people can’t. Age, injury, disabilities, simply not wanting to….

    3. Other Alice*

      No joke, I would call my phisiotherapist to check what he advised. And then sit it out and have a laugh with him afterwards.

    4. Joielle*

      Ha! I am almost never wearing skipping-friendly shoes at work. Workers’ comp claim waiting to happen.

    5. Nea*

      Reading that I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of lawyers suddenly cried out in excitement and started salivating.

    6. QuincePreserves*

      I wonder if the person who suggested the competition used to be my third-grade teacher. I can’t skip, I’ve never been able to skip due to physical disabilities, and she hated that I could not skip in gym class! She made me try to skip in every single gym class. Nearly failed me until the school board got involved!

      1. NeedRain47*

        I got a D in 5th grade gym due to not being able to serve a volleyball overhand. This pisses me off even more in retrospect than it did at the time. (in other school gym classes, as long as you were actively participating, you would get at least a B whether you were good at it or not.)

        1. Ama*

          I didn’t get graded on it but I also got traumatized in 5th grade because I couldn’t serve a volleyball over the net from the back line, on a full size volleyball court, when I was all of 4 foot 3 and weighed 72 pounds. The gym teacher usually had a rule that you tried three times and then everyone rotated court positions, but I think because I was a good athlete in other ways (not ways involving any ball sports, though) he assumed I just wasn’t trying hard enough and insisted I would stay there until I could get it over the net. So I stood there, while my classmates audibly groaned every time I missed. He finally gave up about 12 balls in.

          I really should have told my parents at the time — I told them years later when they wondered why I refused to play even casual volleyball games in our backyard, and they were horrified.

          1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

            ARE YOU ME? It was 8th grade, and she didn’t give up about 12 balls in, she only gave up when the ball rang for the end of class, but I also refuse to play or watch volleyball to this day!

            I’m even more disgruntled because I *could* get the ball over the net, by tossing the ball slightly immediately before I served and hitting it when it was a few inches above my left hand, but I couldn’t serve with the ball still in my hand. And while everyone else was allowed to serve that way, I wasn’t, so we all just had to stand there while volleyball practice came to a grinding halt until the end of class, because I simply. Could. Not.

            One time when I was on the receiving team, someone served that way directly to me, and out of protest, I made no effort to return it. My team got mad at me because we lost the point, and the teacher scolded me because I hadn’t even tried, but I was defiantly like, “What? It’s not a legal serve when *I* do it.” And I had no regrets.

            1. Quill*

              Teachers would get far less malicious compliance directed at them if they weren’t being malicious to begin with.

      2. Le Sigh*

        What a bizarre hill for your teacher to die on. In what world does your ability or inability to skip matter?

      3. The Shenanigans*

        Ugh, the amount of teachers who refuse to do their job and accommodate children with disabilities is unfortunately more common than many people realize. I’m so sorry you ran into one of them.

      4. Elle*

        I am 34, and my parents still aren’t really over the fact that I was, like, 8 before I could skip! I had terrible trouble with the foot change… Hit all my other development milestones right on cue or early, but struggled with that one!

    7. Chilipepper Attitude*

      There is a whole TikTok thing about people not being able to skip as adults, lots of funny videos of people who could not skip because they forgot how.

      1. MikeM_inMD*

        That would be me. I might have been able to skip as a child, and I may have been good (or bad) at it, but I have completely forgotten how it is done. Plus, being over 60, I would refuse to do it, especially in a work setting – too great of a chance for injury.

      2. Llama Identity Thief*

        Very interesting. I’m still breaching adulthood proper, and boy do I LOVE to start randomly skipping around places

      3. E. Chauvelin*

        I was very surprised that I still remembered how to skip, and in hoop skirts no less, at a historical reenactment Twelfth Night feast last year when the Lord of Misrule commanded it. I am solidly middle aged, although obviously whether or not I’m mature is contextual.

    8. Zombeyonce*

      I’m not skipping if I’m not wearing a sports bra, and I’m not wearing a sports bra to work.

    9. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      You spelled, “someone wanted to show off a TikTok challenge they’d mastered” wrong.

  4. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

    Just a word of caution about that first one–the method for how to find your name can often use questions like “street you grew up on for the first name, mother’s maiden name for the last name” or similar things…which are often bank security questions. Be very careful answering these things in public groups–lie, lie, lie!

    1. AnotherOne*

      I don’t know what it says about me that I’m always like how do people so quickly remember this stuff?

      i’m like- the street i grew up on? umm…give me a minute…elm? maybe…i think it was a tree…oak. i could have been oak.

      meanwhile, everyone else is totally done.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I suspect how easy to remember some of those things are depend on a person’s personal circumstances. If somebody lived on a street from birth to the age of 25 when they moved out and their parents still live there, it’s a lot easier to remember than it is for somebody who may have moved 3 times between birth and the age of 18.

        1. wordswords*

          Also, I suspect, how it’s talked about in your family. I do have a good head for this stuff (I’ve lived in a bunch of apartments as an adult, and could reel off the address for each one in order if you asked me), but also, my mom tends to tell stories with “I remember — this was back on Streetname of course — and such and such happened…” And so I could tell you the streets my grandparents lived on before I was born, too, just because I’ve heard them a million times in the course of family anecdotes. Whereas if you never used the street name except for sending letters, I could see how that would be something you’d forget a lot faster.

          1. Mantis shrimp*

            “I remember — this was back on Streetname of course — and such and such happened…”

            This is exactly how my dad and his siblings talk about their childhood. With usually a small argument about whether it was X or Y street. But, which street is an integral part of the story.

          2. Lisa Simpson*

            Pets, too. We had 1 pet growing up, from the time I was born until I graduated college and moved out. It’s an easy security question to remember.

            My husband’s family had 8 dogs, 2 cats, 4 goats, 2 “special” ducks, an entire flock of generic geese/ducks/chickens, and God knows how many small animals (hamsters, gerbils, lizards, guinea pigs, turtles, frogs, toads, fish, etc.) I have no idea how he remembers his own security questions.

          3. Martin Blackwood*

            +1. The street address of an old house is my parents Netflix password. I remember that one, I don’t remember the one after that.

          4. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I still remember my childhood addresses, but we don’t talk about them by street names like my husband’s family does about their houses. We call our house when we lived in town “the rock house” because it was a stone masonry house, and the one when we moved to the outskirts of town, “the country house”, because as kids we thought we were in the country.

          5. Quill*

            I still don’t know my OWN new zip code because I lived on the same side of town until age 28. There is only one zip code space in my memory, and it is already full.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          I am a Navy brat. We moved every one to three years until I was in high school. What street I grew up is a meaningless concept to me.

          1. Texan In Exile*

            Air force brat here and same. I never know how to answer the street question or the name of my high school or anything else that assumes everyone in the world is born in a spot and stays there for the next 20 years.

            1. Pippa K*

              Military brats represent! These questions just don’t work for us. Even if I could reliably remember a street name, I’d never also remember which one I used last time.

              1. kitryan*

                When I used to have to explain ‘where I grew up’, people would ask if we were a military family – my response was ‘no, insurance’. Basically, my dad kept doing pretty well and getting promoted to bigger markets until we ended up at the company’s headquarters. 6 houses / 3 major relocations- not military level but still tough on a questionnaire.

                1. kitryan*

                  And then, of course, I zigzagged across the country a few more times as a college kid and adult (theater)

            2. Tau*

              I recently answered a survey run by a company whose software I use which included the following gem:

              “Were you born in the country you currently live in?”

              Well, no.

              “What year did you move to this country?”

              Uh… do you mean the first time, second time, or third time?

              (Alas, the survey only gave you space for one answer.)

              Some of us have geographically complicated histories, OK!!

          2. WorkingRachel*

            Army brat here! I still bank with USAA and I appreciate that their security questions are things like “What’s the first high school you went to?” (Not that I remember that one, either.) They also do “What is your maternal grandmother’s first name?” and such, but alas I have two grandmas on each side (one bio, one step) and my grandpas both had legal names that they used but weren’t what they usually went by. (“Did I put Rick or Richard?”)

        3. londonedit*

          I grew up in the middle of the countryside and we didn’t have a house number or street name, so I’m always flummoxed as to how to answer those sorts of questions! If it’s something like a security question where I need an answer, I just make something up that I know I’ll remember. But it has led to some slightly odd conversations.

          1. Shiba Dad*

            Same here. Our address had an RD number and a box number. Not sure how I would answer this question.

          2. Michael G*

            I just answer “none” to most of those types of questions. Sorry, I don’t have a favorite movie, book or TV show.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I do! But it will be different in a few weeks. So when the security question comes up, I have to think, “hmm, what was I really into when I opened this account in … 2004?”

            2. Lenora Rose*

              I do… if you account for several favourites in a semi-shifting order. I don’t tend to use them as answers though because I’d have to remember at least five per, and figure out which one I would actually use.

          3. Kayem*

            Same here. I grew up on a rural route that was just a series of numbers and dashes, which later changed to a Highway Contract Route that was just a route and box number, which later became a series of coordinate numbers and letters to identify the new rural 911 routes.

            So doing the stripper name icebreaker is always fun. I’m like “Rover 96-33-18” and people look at me like I’m nuts. Last time that was done, I told them it was my robot stripper name.

            1. Random Dice*

              I’m wheezing with laughter here.

              Suddenly that imagined striptease got really weird.

          4. Lizcase*

            “Lot 8, Concession 16, Township” was what I had to memorize in case I had to call the fire department. I can still rhyme off that, though none of the information is accurate anymore.

          5. londonedit*

            The way our addresses usually work is like ’12 Acacia Avenue, Bigtown, BI3 7GB’. But rural houses often have names rather than numbers, because they’re spaced further apart and the road they’re on often also doesn’t have an official name. So the address where I grew up was more like ‘Longbourn House, Meryton, Nr. Netherfield, Hertfordshire NE21 3AB’. Then you meet people who grew up in cities and they just don’t understand that you didn’t have a house number or a road name. Our landline phone number was also hilarious as it had fewer digits than numbers in the big towns and cities – people would forever be thinking I’d left off a digit.

        4. Michelle Smith*

          It also was easier for me to remember the addresses I had back when writing letters, mailing in rent checks, and other postal activities were more a part of my daily life. Kind of like how I can remember my landline phone number from childhood, but wouldn’t be able to tell you my own work cell phone number or any of my friends’ phone numbers because I never need to think about it.

        5. Soitgoes*

          I moved more than 10 times before I was 18 but I still remember the name of the street I lived as a young child. I also remember the name of the street I lived on for the first 4.5 years of my life.

        6. azvlr*

          This question as an icebreaker just screams privilege to me. It assumes people had a stable upbringing. And yeah, I don’t really want to tell everyone I grew up in that bad neighborhood across town.

          1. NeedRain47*

            Thisssssssss….. I can’t even answer the majority of security questions b/c that’s just not how my life was or is. Didn’t live in the same place, went to a different school every two years, never married, don’t have kids… I basically fail at being a person according to those standards.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I am the immigrant who’s eternally baffled by questions like “what was your high school mascot”, “who was your prom date”… Most security questions are in denial that people born outside of the US exist.

          2. Texan In Exile*

            I had a recruiter ask me which high school I had attended. I think he was trying to place me socially.

            When I told him I had gone to high school in the Panama Canal Zone, he replied, “I LOVE Florida! But I usually go to Tampa.”

          3. Trippedamean*

            Exactly. Someone I was chatting with recently was asking me where I was from. The state wasn’t specific enough for them, though, so I said I moved a lot. He asked if I was an army brat. I decided to be honest and responded, “No, sh*tty childhood.” Maybe I should put that as my street name security answer…

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              Oh, you sound like me! There have been times I wished I *was* a military brat of some sort, because it would be so much easier to explain than, “Erm, my dad had trouble hanging on to a job, so we had to keep moving to wherever he could find another one.”

              The older I get, the less that sort of thing comes up, thank God. But for years, I cringed every time someone asked here I was “from.” I had no idea what I was supposed to say!

            2. GlitterIsEverything*

              This! I had 106 different addresses by the time I was a freshman in high school.

              My mom worked for the phone company, and, sure, they moved us a couple of times (3rd grade, 4th grade, and 6th grade). But the rest was the result of her mental health.

        7. Ally McBeal*

          I dunno, I lived in my “childhood home” only until age 9, and I can still recite the full address, including zip code, at age 37. I don’t remember the phone number now but I had that memorized for a long time too. It was a safety thing – my mom was a nurse and drilled into me the info I would need if I were ever alone in an emergency.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            My parents did the same thing. I can remember my early childhood phone number better than my current one.

          2. An Extremely Fresh Start*

            My childhood phone number (okay we only lived in this house from the summer of 1976 to the late fall of ’78 but it was during the part of childhood that us GenXers remember with the outside until the streetlights come on and all the neighborhood kids as an ongoing playgroup?) was 788-1234.

            The pranks, y’all. The prannnnnks.

        8. anonymouse*

          And conversely, I hate it because I lived “at home” with my parents until late middle age. So did a number of my friends. It’s just how life happened.
          As I grew in my job, everyone learned I lived with “the folks.” I told stories about dinner conversations and the folks popped in now and again, the same way a spouse or a kid would come in to meet people.
          At 35, in a new job, I wouldn’t want an ice breaker that had people making the connection that my childhood bedroom is my current bedroom the first day I met them.

      2. Shiba Dad*

        My address growing up was and RD (Rural Delivery) address. It didn’t have a street name back then.

      3. So Tired*

        I grew up always listening to my parents spell our street name for various deliveries and such, and then I started doing the same. So it’s in the forefront of my mind usually.

      4. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

        Yeah, I just answer those questions with what I WISH was true. Then I remember easy-peasy.

      5. goddessoftransitory*

        I lived on about twelve different streets growing up–that kind of question presumes a kind of past that’s less and less likely.

      6. Event coordinator?*

        You are not alone – I had to remember the address of a house I lived in 5 years ago when I was applying for TSA PreCheck.

        I had to drive to the house and look at the street and number because I could remember how to get there but not the dang address!!!

    2. SMH*

      I had this happen and I put it together quickly that it was similar to bank security questions. I tried to opt out but no everyone needed to participate. So I made up a street name I lived on and mother’s maiden name. Afterwards another team member came to me all concerned that she had given up personal information. I said Yup that’s why I made up names. This got back to my boss and he pulled me in and asks if I lied during the game and I pointed out I tried to opt out first and he goes on and on about integrity.

      I asked him if his Mom’s maiden name was really x and his dog’s name y and a few other things and then I said if you forget your password on your bank account what questions do they ask you. Suddenly the wheels started turning and he went a bit pale. Never brought it up again and I didn’t stay long after this occurred but every time he came up with a team building idea I wanted to repeat his mother’s maiden name to him.

      1. Nea*

        Not work related, but watch out for that kind of thing in obituaries too. I had to heavily edit my mother’s, which originally included her middle name, all her children’s full names, and the states where they lived.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        My mother doesn’t have a married name and her last name is part of my name. It’s never worked as a security question for me.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          My mom went back to her maiden name after the divorce, so I *definitely* don’t use it as a security question. Because you don’t even have to look it up.

    3. SpaceySteph*

      Also don’t use these answers for your bank information either. If you come up with your security answers (just random phrases) that you can use in place of the actual answers, you protect your identity even more. Mother’s maiden name is not a particularly secure response, especially if your grandparents are still alive.

            1. SpaceySteph*

              I come from an Ashkenazi Jewish family where last names are terrible (lots of -itz and -sky in my heritage) and I’ve always been a little envious of people who can use family surnames as first/middle names.

          1. getaway_girl*

            Or if anyone in your family has ever done genealogy research and posted information on a public site like Ancestry or Family Search. I never use family names for security questions for that reason alone.

          2. I remember random stuff for no reason*

            Growing up I met some of my friends’ grandparents and they met mine. I still remember some of the names and I wouldn’t be surprised if they remember my grandma’s name too.

      1. Ann Onymous*

        An IT guy I talked to at work actually suggested coming up with 1 fake answer that works for all your security questions:
        – What’s your favorite color: Blue
        – What was your first pet’s name: Blue

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Blue specifically would be too short for a lot of the systems I’ve encountered (I know because my first pet’s name is 4 letters and is frequently rejected as invalid for being too short), but that’s an interesting idea. I wonder why using the same answer for every question is more secure than making up a different answer for each? I feel like it would take longer to hack 3 or 4 answers than just one, but maybe I’m understanding it wrong.

          1. Zephy*

            A lot of security question systems won’t let you put the same answer for more than one question. The answer being fake is the “more secure” part, making them all the same is so that it’s easier for you, a human being, to remember. If I had your Facebook I could probably get the real answers to all of your security questions with 10 minutes of clicking through your profile, but if you’re making shit up, it will be a lot harder for me to brute-force my way into your account by guessing your security questions. The problem is that you will not remember that your favorite color is Little Debbie Snack Cakes next time you need to reset your password, so you can’t get TOO wild with it.

            1. Nea*

              Alternatively, you could add code words to the “real” answer and/or expound on the answer – favorite color becomes Light Blue Lightbulb or first pet name is Tabitha aka Purry Furry.

          2. Hlao-roo*

            It’s a balance. Make passwords (or security question answers) too complicated, and people will write them down, which makes them more “hackable” then a meh password the person can remember. In the case of security questions:

            Use real answers? People who know you well or have moderate internet search skills also know those answers.

            Use a fake answer for each question? If you don’t have a good system for memorizing them, you’ll likely write them down somewhere, and then anyone who finds your list knows your answers.

            Use one fake answer for every question? It stays in your head and you’re the only one who knows.

            1. OrigCassandra*

              Some password managers can come to the rescue here. Fake something, save it in the password manager.

            2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Nowadays I think a written down password is the least hackable – on the assumption that you are being hacked remotely.

              In the olden days when you needed your password to get on to your physical computer and its contents couldn’t be accessed any other way, a post-it was insecure. Now it’s a bot ten thousand miles away, who can’t look on the pinboard (on the wall out of sight of your webcam) and see what you scribbled.

              For any account I don’t care about losing (eg an online shop) I let the browser suggest a secure password and log me in automatically. I don’t even use the same email account for different accounts of this type.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                In computer security, the key question you’re asking is “Secure against what?” Unless you’re worried about protecting the info from someone you live with or a burglar who enters your house, writing down your password is fine.

                1. Zephy*

                  Exactly. The Russians can’t hack a Post-It note stuck to the inside of a desk drawer.

              2. Quill*

                Yep. You would have to know which pretty notebook has it in which page beyond a list of cheat codes for games I haven’t played in six years to get the info. And also physically break into my apartment.

                Different when it’s at work and three dozen people in your office have potential access, but for your personal device? Writing it down and shoving it under your mousepad is probably fine.

            3. Lisa Simpson*

              ” then anyone who finds your list knows your answers.”

              If someone is in my house rooting through my desk, we have a much more serious security breach on our hands than “someone found out the answer to my security questions.”

              1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                The thing is, there are lots of different threat vectors. Your passwords need to protect against the faceless hacker in an undisclosed location, but they also need to protect against your jealous ex and your brother-in-law’s sketchy cousin.

                1. NeedRain47*

                  This is where people get the wrong idea tho. It’s VASTLY more likely that your personal information is going to get stolen during an online breach, than that anyone will work through your security questions or anything else, but people spend a lot of time worried about someone rifling through their trash or a salesperson who handles your card stealing the numbers. (Of course such things as sketchy relatives exist, it’s just not something everyone has to worry about.)

                2. Emmy Noether*

                  I’m *much* more worried about the first possibility. I currently have no jealous ex, and very few people have access to my living space. I physically hid my emergency password reset list so that one would have to search for the list for a while AND know what accounts the list was for. Unlikely enough to be worth it for me.

                3. The Shenanigans*

                  You can’t protect against all threat vectors in computer security. It’s just not possible if you want to do, well, anything online at all. The thing to do is, as others say, protect against the likely threat vectors for your life. For me, that’s remote hacking by some sort of unfriendly state. Absolutely no one comes in my house except my best friends who also live here, and occasionally our landlord. So, it makes perfect sense for me to write my down stuff in a journal that stays with me on my desk. This assessment may not work for you, and that’s fine. But it’s perfectly reasonable for myself and others.

            4. Irish Teacher*

              I write stuff down that will remind me but will mean nothing to anybody else, like “password for whatever: usual date followed by second half of first password I ever used” or “same as e-mail password except translated into Irish.”

              1. Kacihall*

                at a bank I worked at, we had to change all our passwords every 90 days. inevitably I would need to change it the day before o was off for a few days. I’d leave myself a note if what book I was reading, and set the password to a character and their age.

                1. kitryan*

                  I had a job with a frequent change policy. I also had a couple folders on my desk with ‘positive’ phrases that had clearly been translated at least once if not twice. I used the first letter of each word in the first phrase for a password and then just went down to the next phrase for each change. Adding the same number/punctuation to each- a sort of in plain sight approach. Pretty secure unless you knew the system.

              2. Ellis Bell*

                I do this too. Like for my mother’s maiden name, I use her childhood nickname and for my first street address I use the informal name for the area which isn’t on maps. I also went through a phase of using the flower or plant most attached to the question; so the tree at my childhood home, or my mum’s favourite flower, or the shrub my cat used to sleep under.

                1. Hosta*

                  I answer those sorts of questions with plant names. So far as anyone knows, my high school mascot was the mighty fighting
                  gooseberry.

                  “Give them the goose!” we used to say.

              3. Dawbs*

                mine tends to be written to myself as “favorite Shakespeare sonnet, line 1 every other caps. plus fave # &”

                to mean MmEaNlTs6&
                (first letter to each word in sonnet 130, line 1, followed by#and symbol)

            5. Lenora Rose*

              Or, write down clues but not the answer. If you can get into my old computer, find my password file, then figure out my password for an account just from phrases like “Swinging Song”, “Yet another veggie”, or “Either Wizard or Jazz Musician”* you pretty much deserve to get in. Meanwhile, I can see those and type in a 10-15 digit answer with caps and numbers and extra characters, most of which aren’t in the clue at all.

              *None of those are the actual clues, either, but they’re what the clues look like.

            6. Jessen*

              Honestly, for the vast majority of people written down security answers aren’t that big a deal. Just make sure you keep the list in a secure location. For your personal information, a written list that’s kept in your home in a place that can’t be accessed by anyone untrustworthy is quite secure. The problem comes when people leave the information out in a shared space like an office.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Are you sure the IT guy wasn’t trying to hack you? Because that’s pretty terrible advice.

          If you came up with a single complex password and wanted to use it for each of the security questions for a single site, that’s reasonably secure, but you want to avoid any of the following:
          –Reuse across sites (unless they’re all throw-away accounts)
          –Single dictionary word (or dictionary word with simple substitutions such as i=>1 or O=>0)
          –Answer/password less than 15 characters long

          The real answer here is to use a) 2-factor authentication, b) a password manager c) passphrases instead of passwords.

        3. Bilateralrope*

          I just bang randomly on the keyboard to close the security hole that is those questions.

          Any account I care about has other means to regain access if I forget my password.

        1. Chirpy*

          Or a married mother who kept her name or hyphenated it, or a father who took his wife’s name! All of these have been done by people I know!

      2. Something clever*

        when I worked for a bank in the early 2000s, I pointed out during training that mother’s maiden name wasn’t as secure as they seemed to think. Especially in a small town where everyone knew everyone. it didn’t go over well.

      3. Prosecco*

        My parents took my mum’s last name as a family name when they got married. So my mum’s maiden name is … my last name.
        My dad never changed back when they got divorced (tragically, I think he really wanted to keep this last tie to us but its a long story).

        I guess I could use my dad’s bachelor’s name… but still. It’s a ridiculous security question in this day and age.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        or if your mother was on social media connected to her mother’s brother’s children with accurate relations!

    4. Zephy*

      Not just bank security questions, *any* security questions. I saw a lot of these “what’s your elf name” or similar generators bouncing around on Facebook years ago, where you take your birthday and your eye color and your birth order or some other traits and match them up with a list of words to generate a phrase. Maybe they’re still there, I’ve seen a few make their way to Instagram but not recently, so either my algorithm has been fully consumed by kittens and podcasts or they’re well and truly dead, but they’ve always been phishing scams disguised as fun facebook games. Chuckle privately at being “Her Majesty Beansy the Flatulent,” don’t post it in the comments.

      1. Lily C*

        Same. I do still see these float around once or twice a year on Facebook, but I only answer them in my head.

    5. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

      The only method I ever heard for this was your first pet’s name + the street you grew up on.

      Mine (and no, I’m not going to list it here lol) would make for one weird porno. One really, really, REALLY weird porno.

      1. DannyG*

        Grew up in a fairly large city. Outside of the downtown core streets were numbered as were the avenues. Address was house#; quadrent; street#/ave#. That would yield a stripper name for a robot.

    6. Chirpy*

      We had a “get to know you” worksheet that the managers scanned in and shared with the whole (location? did it also go to corporate? not sure) and all the questions were very much things that are common security questions. Potentially even some that could be the specific security questions on our benefits/ payroll login system. I pointed this out to the manager, and was told I didn’t have to do it. But other people who did definitely got all their answers broadcast to everyone. On an internal message system that can be searched for old posts.

    7. zuzu*

      I know someone who lived on a tank base as a young mother and was a bit jealous of her kid, whose answer to that would be Hell On Wheels Blvd.

    8. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I’ve never seen a security question asking what your porn name is.

    9. Kayem*

      I tend to lie on both. Bank security questions ask a lot that just don’t apply to me, like “what sport did you play in college?” and “who was your math teacher in high school” or “what’s the name of your .” Those forms often won’t take “None, don’t remember, nonexistent” as answers and people leading icebreakers can get weird about it and push for more info that I’d rather not give out.

    10. BubbleTea*

      I have lately had the misfortune to have multiple phone calls with a specific government department and they always ask two security questions: the town I was born in, and my first pet. I think I chose the questions myself, and those were the only two where there was only one possible answer (what was my favourite colour as a child? Well, blue, red, orange, purple, or turquoise, depending what age you mean… etc) or where I had any hope of remembering what answer I gave (who was my favourite teacher? I don’t even remember their names, never mind which ones I liked). They’re stupid security questions because one is matter of public record and the other doesn’t apply to everyone.

    11. The Shenanigans*

      I’d answer honestly because I use fake ones online. They aren’t legal forms. They don’t ask if it’s correct, and they don’t care. They just care that I can tell them what I said the last time when I go to sign in. I’ll pick stuff from pop culture and mix it up like Arkham School for Witchcraft and Wizardry (no not one I’ve used lol). Sometimes I’ll just say whatever silly idea pops into my head at the time. So far, so good.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        FWIW, Second Street is said to be the most common street name in the US. Who’s going to question it?

  5. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    At a team meeting I once attended, the facilitator asked us all to go around the name and say our names, our roles, and “oh, I dunno, an embarrassing childhood memory.” That last bit was apparently a joke and not meant to be taken seriously, but I did not know this and I went first. Luckily the memory I shared was short and not terribly traumatic, but I was the only person to share.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      At an old company they used to ask new people to share an embarrassing story at our weekly staff meeting. It was typically a well-like exercise, just a fun quick story that told us something about the new person. Until one new hire told a very long and detailed story about how he thought he was just a ladies man while out one night during study abroad, and it turns out he was at an escort lounge.

      The story sharing practice was immediately discontinued.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Now I’m going to tell that story as my own if anyone ever asks me to tell them an embarrassing story about my past.

    2. christy7h*

      we did this once (tell a childhood story) and a coworker told a story about growing up on a farm and having to shoot their dog.
      We didn’t do that icebreaker again.

      1. ArticulateOctopus*

        Wow you might have worked with someone I went to high school with! Especially if it was a guy and his dad made him do it D:

        1. Zinnia*

          If the dog was actively dying, then maybe that’s acceptable, but a normal healthy active dog=nope

    3. Shivering Kermit*

      This whole thread is putting my brain into Extreme Literalism. The result of breaking ice is flailing around, getting hypothermia, and risking drowning.
      N0, I didn’t google the origin of the phrase. I sincerely hope it’s more benign than that.

      1. Oska*

        I’m pretty sure it’s a metaphor based on an ice breaker ship that forges a path through frozen waters. But it often ends up with more flailing and metaphorical drowning, it seems. :D

  6. seashell*

    We had a new leader share a story about an illness that she recovered from and the people who spoke after her followed by sharing their medical stories/struggles. Then it took a hard turn into traumatic experiences that ended with a ton of trauma dumps and people openly crying. IT WAS AWFUL

    1. Ama*

      Yeah for our department “retreat” day this year we had to bring one personal item that was important to us to share and everyone else had some really emotional things (one person had the memorial card from her dad’s funeral, a coworker who has a child with a serious chronic illness shared something the child had written about that illness). I really don’t need that level of emotion at a work thing.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        “Migraine Month, did you bring a video game controller?”

        “Yes, it’s very important and meaningful to me because I like to play video games sometimes.”

        1. Ama*

          Yes what I shared was the race number from a race I had just run a few months earlier — largely because it’s on the bulletin board next to my desk so I didn’t have to spend any time finding a thing.

      2. Frickityfrack*

        We had “fun” topics to share at our monthly team meetings, which were remote at that point. We got the personal item one once, and I was like, “Uh, I got this sword, that’s pretty cool.” I bought it on a school trip to Spain as a kid, I’m not a mall ninja or anything, and it was the nearest thing that was interesting enough to seem like I tried but also had like, zero personal feelings attached. Everyone should have a sword just in case of dumb work games like that I think.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This is Jamie Tartt “I’m me. Why would I want to be anfing else?” level of emotional preparedness right there.

  7. Lilith*

    At ‘how to give and receive feedback’ training, with the whole company having been split into groups of 20ish to do it. We were sat in a circle, they did the whole preamble of this being a ‘rubber room’ and safe to share, nothing would go outside these walls, all very reassuring. Then the main trainer clapped her hands and said ‘to begin with, we’ll go round everyone individually and ask you to stand up and sing your favourite song!’

    It turned out we didn’t have to do any singing, but I have no idea why as my terrified adrenaline had started rushing as soon as she said it so I missed the next 30 minutes of whatever was said because of my internal panicking.

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      I would be tempted to sing a song that I learned in my “college days on the marching band bus”. Go to HR, Go directly to HR, do not pass GO, do not collect next paycheck.

      1. Emma*

        I would have gone for Girls’ Brigade camp songs. Tough contest between “he jumped a-forty thousand feet” (chorus: glory, glory, what a wonderful way to die; when you’re wearing frilly knickers and you don’t know how to fly), or “found a peanut”.

        1. Quill*

          Possibly worst for work girl scout song I know is “yellow bird.” Which has some advantages over the boy scout version because 1) it’s more bloodthirsty, and 2) apparently the boy scout version is passed around by teens, whereas we were marching through the woods at six shout-singing the phrase “if you like bread protect your head!”

      2. Anony vas Normandy*

        Between marching band and SCA, I learned a lot of . . . we’ll say “ribald” songs. I remember every word to the one about the moose.

    2. MikeM_inMD*

      Sing my favorite song? “Oh this is the song that never ends. It goes on and on my friends …..”

      1. Quill*

        This, but also the regional favorite “worms? I hate worms!” that went around my elementary a few billion times.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      I still have latent trauma from being forced to sing in acting class in high school if I wanted to pass the class. I also would have missed whatever she said afterward in panic and probably lost the rest of the day trying to come down from the emotional rollercoaster.

    4. Iron Chef Boyardee*

      Favorite song? It’s hard to think of a GG Allin song that’s safe for the workplace…

      1. My Dear Wormwood*

        Tom Cardy’s H.Y.C.Y.B.H. or the Ballad of Smokin’ Joe would be another great option. Maybe Mixed Messages if it’s a male facilitator.

    5. PiePie*

      I know all of the lyrics to Don McLean’s American Pie. I wonder how long they would let me sing before stopping me. The whole 10 minutes?

      1. CowWhisperer*

        Your comment lead my husband and I belting out as much of Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as we remember. Added bonus if you have someone who can mimic the instruments for the bridge section.

      2. ElsieD*

        « Oh, the personal life of the camel… » That would get stopped almost at once. But if not, there are a lot of verses and the rugby players would join in…

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      That is NOT something you do to people!

      I remember in Santaland Diaries, David Sedaris’s essay about being a Christmas elf at Macy’s, one of the Santas insisted that he sing some kid’s carol–something like Here Comes Santa Claus. So he sang it like Billie Holliday would have, real bluesy and wailing.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        “He’s a lumberjack and he’s OK
        He sleeps all night and he works all day…”

        I wonder how far I could get before they stopped me? *sweet smile*

        1. Random Dice*

          I used to think that was really risqué as a kid, but now I’m like, aww, I’m glad that nice lumberjack gets to wear the nice panties and dress he likes.

  8. els*

    At the beginning of an all-staff session about diversity we stood in a circle and our head of HR had us step into the circle if we identified as various things, such as: Christian, Jewish, atheist, etc.; cisgender, transgender, etc.; straight or gay or bi, etc. This went on for about ten minutes. Basically asking people to out themselves at work to break the ice. I think we were all kind of stunned. It didn’t occur to me to refuse to participate until a few minutes after it ended.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I would just have stepped in for all of them and left the HR head to figure it out.

    2. CheesePlease*

      Flashbacks to “Diversity Day” ep of The Office but worse because it’s real life. Yikes

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Going along is extremely human!

      I think the base line for a group where you need to interact and depend on each other (so workplace or classroom more than subway car) is to be moderately helpful and cooperative and Do The Thing even if it seems a little weird, because you assume there’s a reason for it. “I’m going to say no. And make a lot of waves” is not most people’s first instinct–it takes a while to get there, leading to both l’esprit d’escalier and “well it would be weird to mention it now, since I didn’t when it first happened, so now we are stuck with it forever.”

      Also, I believe that 98% of people who claim they would have delivered a zinger would not have thought of the zinger in the moment.

    4. anon for this*

      GOD i had to do something like this in college, except we had to fill out a form first. i lied my butt off for most of it but left the religion box blank, and when the organizer said we had to fill out all the boxes i just wrote “non-christian” as the least-specific thing i could think of.

      afterwards, the organizer went through all the forms and made the ‘minority’ groups get in circles and discuss their experiences. this was a group of 30+ and there were only three “non-christians” there. the first two people spent their whole time talking about “oh well, i hate when people get uncomfortable discussing their religion with me! i don’t practice but i love being included and some of my happiest times where when i get invited to church :)” and then i had to take MY turn and say “well actually i hate it when people do discuss christianity with me. i’ve spent my whole life being harassed and proselytized to and told i was going to hell and i wish people wouldn’t do that. it’s horrible.” which was of course awkward as hell after the first two had just come out to say “proselytizing is great”

      after that torment ended and after the other groups which were just as bad or worse and made me so thankful to have lied about everything else, i ended up going to the organizer and saying “hey, i know you meant well but i don’t think this was a good idea. you should at least let people know they’re going to be put on the spot first.” she apologized (i have no idea how sincerely) and complimented me for being brave enough to come out as an atheist.

      “i’m not an atheist.”

      “oh, well then what are you?”

      i didn’t answer that, i just left. i couldn’t think of anything to say.

        1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

          Or, “I’m someone who doesn’t believe in bulls*** exercises that marginalize people who don’t practice the predominant religion.”

      1. Kacihall*

        I enjoy telling people I’m a cynical polytheist or a deist, and when they ask me to explain I tell them we’re all living in a computer simulation and I believe that the beings running it have no idea what they’re doing.

        1. Good Enough For Government Work*

          I always say I’m an apatheist: I don’t CARE if there’s a god (or gods) or not

    5. Ursula*

      This would be a really fun exercise if it was things like “Loves coffee” and “Goes hiking regularly” instead of federally protected classes.

      1. M*

        Not sure how common it is in the US, but in Aus a pretty common “getting to know the class” activity in schools/unis/etc is to give everyone a bingo card with various innocuous characteristics that they have to find someone in the group who has (and can’t use anyone twice). So, like “has a cat”, “has been to Italy”, “plays tennis”, that kind of thing.

        …the idea of doing that with anything actually sensitive makes me cringe.

  9. MsM*

    On one of our early pandemic Zoom calls, we were asked to do a bit of show and tell involving an object in our home that had some kind of special meaning for us. Since we were given maybe ten minutes to prepare for this exercise, though, there was an awful lot of “this coffee mug has been incredibly dear to me ever since I looked around and found it right there on the desk.”

      1. scared*

        Please please please tell me it was the standard kind and not the kind with a character on it!

    1. ferrina*

      I was asked to do this at a recent meeting! It was a small group (4 people) and we had 5 minutes to look around our house. It actually ended up being really fun and sweet. One person shared an heirloom from their grandmother, one person shared a family picture from a special moment, and one shared an item from a special experience with their kid.

    2. Nea*

      “Sorry, but it takes more than 10 minutes to catch the cat. She’s quick and suspicious.”

      1. MsM*

        A good 80% of the non-coffee mug responses were indeed “say hello to my pet and/or child who foolishly wandered into the room just in time to be a prop!”

        1. Nea*

          One of my cats used to sit next to me on my desk at home… until 2020. She got hauled in front of a camera on Zoom so often she still slinks off and glares at me when I pull the laptop out.

    3. CozyDetective*

      During the pandemic I had to do something similar—an icebreaker where we needed to pick an object that was supposed to represent what we lost or gained during the pandemic. We had 5 minutes to pick. My dad had died late 2020, so I lost a parent and “gained” an urn. I truly could not think of anything else in the five minutes because it was in my closet. Cue eyes widening in horror. (Note: I didn’t show the urn, but I had a visceral reaction on the call and my coworker thought it would be a good idea to ask me about it in front of everyone else).

    4. Zombeyonce*

      We did something like this in a meeting recently but it was “show us something on your desk”. It was nice because it was voluntary and also easy. Some people talked about where they got a mug, some people had a figurine or toy. It was really low pressure and entertaining.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, most of these icebreakers seem to go wrong when they get too specific and too meaningful/emotional.

        “What’s something on your desk?” => Probably fine
        “What’s the most [X] item on your desk?” => Getting too specific
        “What’s the most meaningful item on your desk and what is the story behind it?” => Getting too emotional

        1. maringe*

          Eh, the most meaningful thing on my desk is a goofy-looking pen my little cousins got for me. Story behind it is they’d thought I’d like it. I mean, that’s it. *shrugs*

          1. Mairsy Doates*

            To me, that sounds like a perfect icebreaker. A fun little non-work detail with zero emotional stakes. We could all remark on the goofy pen and share some brief anecdotes about our own goofy pens, then move on to the work activity.

    5. christy7h*

      this happened to my husband’s work- share the oldest thing in your house. One woman turns out kept the umbilical cord stump and baby teeth of her children… yuck.
      Someone else it was an urn/ashes.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s the line and action we all wish we could both come up with on the spot, and then have the will to execute it.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Yeah, I think we’ve all felt that feeling, but none of us except that guy have had the wit and the guts to actually do the thing.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Mayfly – Because if I ever emerge and show my true colors, my expected lifespan at this company will be measured in hours.

  10. Peanut Hamper*

    I saw a comedian who complained that these are never good activities for more introverted people (like her, and also like me). When she was asked to play “two lies and a truth” she said “I hate you and I hate you and I hate you” to three random people and walked out.

    It’s just a comedy routine, but I love the energy.

    1. Dumpster Fire*

      I think I might’ve done “I hate you and I hate you and I loooove you!” just to really throw some intrigue into it!

    2. Not Mindy*

      I was coming to say the same thing. I have a friend who actually did that (after seeing the comic). The response from her coworkers was “it’s supposed to be 2 truths and a lie, not 3 truths.”
      I know that this isn’t supposed to be a good ice breaker (is there really one that is good?) but I actually like it. It’s easy to make personal or generic. And that alone will help you get to know your coworkers better.
      If someone says “my house is white, I grew up in X City, I’ve worked here for 5 years” then you know this probably isn’t the type of person who is going to want anything more than surface small talk.
      If they say “One time at band camp…., I’m a Sagittarius, the enemy’s gate is down” then you know the person is probably an oversharer.
      Or “roses are red, violets are blue, I think this game is dumb, don’t you?” then you know that you want to go to lunch with that person!

      1. Betty*

        I think you might be kidding in your comment, but just in case, I’m the person who would not share anything remotely personal in this type of situation. But if I trust the people I’m talking to, I have no problem being warm and personable and personal. I’m just not going there for an ice breaker.

        1. Not Mindy*

          @Betty – I was kind of joking/being a little extreme, but I should have said that it was more of a jumping off point with the person. Especially if this is the first time you’ve met them.
          As someone who might be considered a little aggressively friendly in my communication style, I like to have an idea if I should tone myself down, at least to begin with. It can be a fine line between being myself and being too much.

          1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

            Betty’s comment is a good example of why you really can’t read anything much into how somebody responds to an icebreaker question apart from how they feel about answering that particular question, in that particular group, at that particular moment in time.

      2. DataSci*

        That one is the WORST. My life is boring, I don’t have anything interesting to share in that game – people are always like “I’m a helicopter pilot, I’ve traveled to all seven continents, and I’ve had lunch with European royalty” and I’m sitting there with nothing.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          ” I found the full five seasons of Remington Steele on Prime and it was the happiest day of my life.”

        2. Quill*

          I pick boring things and make them seem more bizzare by leaving off context. For example, I could select the time that my middle school class went to something and petted baby crocodiles as “I have petted a crocodile” for greater drama.

          Of course, there’s nothing wrong with “I was in choir in middle school, I have three houseplants, and my car is green.”

      3. The Shenanigans*

        I’m one of those who hates all ice breakers and team building. If I want to know people better, I’ll ask. If I don’t ask, its because I truly, truly don’t care. But it’s unfortunately bad manners to say that out loud to people in this context.

        Oh! That reminds me though. When I was in undergrad mandatory orientation we had to do an icebreaker. We had to share three facts, and then our partner had to share them with the room ugh. I just spat out what I was told in about five seconds and then sat down. I was 33 or so when I started, and the poor kid I got stuck with said this fact about me like ten times. I don’t give a fuck about my age, but it did get old (heh) after a while.

        Now my go to fact is have synesthesia – I see sounds in color. That’s usually something I have to explain, which means there is no time left for me to say anything else which is just fine with me. It’s an interesting fact but not at all personal.

      4. E. Chauvelin*

        I’m a librarian and I have three weird stories about authors, two of which are true, that I used to use for that, but if I did it again I’d need to make up a new lie because I think “I’ve been personally insulted by Harlan Ellison” is probably sounding dated, people might not remember that he only passed away five years ago and do the math quickly enough to realize I could have met him at a conference (which I haven’t but I did see him on some panels) so while it never happened it’s at least as plausible as the two things that did.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Thanks for this. Plenty of introverts are outgoing and plenty of extroverts are shy. It’s not about how you interact with people, it’s about how quickly social interaction mentally tires you.

  11. mcm*

    Honestly, the guy in #2 saw his opportunity and took it. As satisfying as the pettiness stories from the other day. 10/10

  12. DataSci*

    Every icebreaker is horrible, but clearly some are even more horrible than the usual “we will judge you on your lack of engagement with pop culture” type!

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think that all icebreakers are terrible. The fact that I can’t remember a lot of the icebreakers I’ve experienced is due to their lack of terribleness. And the really good ones may not be memorable, but they are useful.

      I mean any icebreaker can go bad if there are people who are not acting in good faith, management is bad, or the whole session is badly planned or inappropriate. But assuming reasonable planning they can move a meeting forward.

      1. Ashley*

        I always appreciate the name ones when you are doing a weekend / week with new people especially when it is something basic like an animal or food that starts with the same letter as your name.

        1. Chirpy*

          Even these are not good when the most obvious animal/ food/ traits with your letter requires some explanation or has awkward connotations when applied to people….

        2. Sunshine*

          Haha, I can see the value, but I never appreciate those – only because my name starts with J! J is much better represented in names than in words in the English-speaking world.

          Signed, the 5th 10-year-old at summer camp trying to think of a unique word starting with J to describe herself.

          1. Jingleheimer*

            As a fellow J-name person, I feel your pain. I was in a class in high school where they did something similar except it was come up with an adjective that describes you *and* starts with the same letter as your name. I had never appreciated the dearth of adjectives that start with a J until placed in that position as a shy 14 year old. The teacher ended up assigning me “jocular”, which couldn’t be further from the truth as a descriptor.

            1. Not that other person you didn't like*

              Jaded… even at 14

              (seriously though how horrible, I was shy as a kid/teen as well and hated that kind of thing)

        3. Jane.*

          I took part in an icebreaker where we wrote our names on the flip chart and then explained what they meant eg “I’m Jane xxxx, Jane comes from Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings, and xxxx means ….”. It worked really well – interesting enough to keep you listening, good for giving you time to learn colleagues names, and not private info.

      2. Betty*

        I was a technical trainer for a long time, and I always asked people to tell us their favorite vacation (along with their first name, type of work they do, and if they had any specific questions). One time, an attendee couldn’t think of a favorite vacation, so I amended it to “favorite vacation or dream vacation.” I didn’t really care what they said. My main goal was to start creating a good environment for people to learn – not to make people even more uncomfortable!

        1. DataSci*

          Then why did you start by putting people on the spot? Genuinely curious about what this looks like from the other side. Why does “I’m going to surprise you by putting you on the spot about something unrelated to work that’s going to affect how people see you and interact with you” sound like a way to “creat[e] a good environment for people to learn”?

      3. The Shenanigans*

        Sincere question: What do you find are useful or helpful ice breakers? What do they accomplish for you?

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed they aren’t all horrible, some are horrible, some are silly/boring/annoying but can still help get folks talking and a few can actually be pretty good. I like the ones that ask people to share something interesting about themselves – broad enough that folks don’t feel obligated to share something they don’t want to, but just narrow enough that usually you can think of something that fits. I also like asking people something interesting they are watching/reading/listening to that they liked. Again, fairly broad but narrow enough. There are just way too many where folks don’t think it through “What college did you go to?” – Not everyone went to college. “Who’s your favorite sports team?” – Not everyone likes sports. etc.

  13. Sometimes I Wonder*

    I encourage people to opt out. I have a practice of saying “Hi, I’m Sometimes I Wonder and I’m opting out of this exercise.” It’s very freeing, and it also gives permission for others to do so. And people have told me they’re grateful I gave them a graceful out.

    1. Clisby*

      One ice-breaker I remember from work was “Look at the person to your left and say what animal he or she reminds you of.”

      A couple of people came up with answers, then we got to Steve the Curmudgeon. He glared balefully at the person running the meeting and said, “I don’t compare people to animals. I think it’s demeaning.” I immediately thought, “My hero!” and when they got to me, I said, “I agree with Steve.”

      1. Saddy Hour*

        Ohhhhh that’s a horrible icebreaker. The only thing you have to go off is physical appearance! As someone who was not-infrequently compared to a hawk all through middle and high school (ha ha ha I have a BIG NOSE I GET IT HA HA), I really love Steve (and you) for refusing to engage in that.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Honestly, I was expecting far worse from Steve the Curmudgeon. At least he didn’t say Dung Beetle.

      3. JustaTech*

        I had a coworker years ago who had some unique approaches to life, resulting in a lot of “just for him” rules (we had a lot of safety rules, and then we had “Just for Bob” rules).
        One of those was “don’t compare your coworkers to animals” after he said that one of our other coworkers looked like a cow.
        He meant “your jacket has black and white spots like a cow”.
        That’s not how the coworker (or anyone else) took it.

    2. Jiminy cricket*

      I’ve done this, too. I say it as cheerfully and matter-of-factly and cant-argue-with-me as possible. “Hi! I’m [NAME] and I’m going to pass. Thanks!” Turn to person on my left. And, done. Everything proceeds just fine.

      1. Jiminy cricket*

        I just remembered one a conference: We were matched up with totally random people, then had to play a game that involved hitting the other person on the shoulder as many times as you could. (The point was to show the value of cooperation over competition.)

        I looked at my partner and said, “I’m not into physical contact with strangers.” She said, “Thank god.” So we talked about our work instead and made a great professional connection.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Wait what? The icebreaker was physical violence? And someone thought that was an acceptable idea?

        2. Seal*

          WTF?! As someone who’s gone through rotator cuff surgery on one shoulder and has severe arthritis in the other, I can safely say that I would walked out.

          1. Jiminy cricket*

            I don’t think we were supposed to hit hard? Maybe tap? I blocked it out, because I absolutely do not touch strangers if I don’t have to, but the “winning” team got to the highest total number of shoulder hits or taps because they did not try to block each other.

            Yeah. The more I describe it the worse it gets. I wasn’t going to participate, in any case.

    3. The answer is always kombucha*

      I always answer any of these with “Kombucha.” Most facilitators get that I’m side stepping the question. I’ve had a couple of, “Kombucha isn’t an animal.” Or, “Kombucha isn’t an adjective.” I always reply “Oh?” with a bemused look. A few, “You must really like kombucha.” Me: “Not particularly.”

    4. Bellevue Beth*

      Or a variation like, “Goodness, drawing a blank. But (insert whatever I am comfortable saying about llamas, my partner’s awesomeness, a vacation I’m planning, my friend’s recent birthday, yadda yadda)!”
      Big smile, like OF COURSE I want to follow your dumb prompt but gee golly you’ve stumped me.

  14. VivKeill*

    We had a team lunch for several people rolling up under a VP, many of whom we’d never met before. The ice-breaker was “who was your first celebrity crush?” which seems innocuous enough until you consider that many LQBTQ+ folks might have major anxieties around such memories, confronting the emotional burden of realizing they were different, etc. So after like, 3 answers, it got to a Director who was like, “this will out me, but here goes” and then it was majorly awkward. I wasn’t super comfortable, even though most of the people in the room know I’m an out gay man, but it was just…not the tone the admin who posed the question wanted.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      That would be…interesting for me in another way as I am aromantic asexual, so what would I be supposed to do? Just…make something up? Not even sure who were the popular crushes in the 1980s or 1990s or what age people are supposed to be when they first have a celebrity crush – 8, 10, 13?

      I mean, I’d probably just say something like “I wasn’t really into celebrities,” but…it’s still kinda awkward.

      1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

        I was lucky enough to have a friend in middle school/early high school who was Very Into All Those Things, so I just picked whatever she was going on about as my default. Backstreet Boys vs. N*Sync? She liked Backstreet Boys, so I liked Backstreet Boys, and I picked the one no one else in the group was celebrity crushing on so that it all evened out. She had a thing for a popular football player on our local college team for a while, and there was a particular movie star that she really liked. They all make decent enough answers if you put me on the spot.

        1. not a hippo*

          Yep, that was me too. My friends in 4th grade were obsessed with the Backstreet Boys. I picked AJ as my crush because no one else did (& it was amusing because he was the “bad boy”)

          Meanwhile I still don’t understand crushes or attraction but

          1. Quill*

            Being interrogated on the bus in like, 8th or ninth grade, asked who I thought was hot, blurted out “aragorn”

            “Oooh, you’re into Viggo Mortensen and not Orlando Bloom?” (This was halfway through the LOTR trilogy releases)

            Me: Who?

      2. Captain Raymond Holt*

        I’d be lost too. Ace and no interest in pop culture. I’d make something up.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        It’s good to let people know their idea is awkward as fuck though. I mean, you could choose to smooth over the awkward thoughtlessness and reveal something nostalgic and cutely distracting about yourself like: ” Oh I never paid any attention to celebrities, but I was pretty obsessed with tamogotchi virtual pets! They took up my attention for the whole 1990s.” But.. I honestly like the awkward answer better: “I don’t like celebrities”…… “No, none of them, I’m sure”.

      4. Quill*

        Still not really into celebrities, also aroace. Uh, I think my (early 90’s born) cohort probably was having celebrity crushes by, like, the Justin Timberlake Era? And I am definitely not into Timberlake. I also know zero things about him beyond that he was in that one infamous superbowl commercial that flashed the viewing public. (on accident!)

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Mine was “the Man in Black” from Princess Bride. Not Wesley; I only liked him when he was wearing the mask. Same with Zorro and Don Diego.

        What can I say? I like masks.

        1. AlwhoisThatAl*

          “You mean you’ll put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword, and we’ll try and kill each other like civilized people?”

    2. just another queer reader*

      Yeah, I definitely invented fake crushes as a teenager. I would do the same if asked at a work thing. Or maybe just use the “I’ll pass!” strategy.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      It’s also so age-identified! I would not want to be the person saying David Cassidy next to the person saying Hannah Montana

    4. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I literally couldn’t answer this. Never had one. I’m sure that would not cause any drama (sarcasm). I would have to seriously consider saying something comic and obviously false.

    5. Captain Swan*

      That would be an interesting one for me not because of gender but because of age. My first celebrity crush was an actor who is just a little bit older than my father. Happily, I’ve never been asked that as an icebreaker and most coworkers wouldn’t be shocked to find out this fact.
      The celebrity is Harrison Ford, by the way, and I am to this day a very devoted fan of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Most of my coworkers know that about me.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Nah, I don’t think anyone would find crushing on Harrison Ford as a younger person than him weird. I wouldn’t, anyhow, and while I was born when Star Wars came out, it wasn’t by terribly much.

        (I thought Luke was cuter back then — though, partly due to motorcycle accident, Hamill hasn’t visually aged as well. Still seems to be a nice guy, though. Neither would be who I’d list as a celebrity crush, though; I admire the characters and enjoy the aesthetics, but crush, to me, is something different from that kind of distant appreciation.)

      2. Nonprofit Slave*

        Actually, I was thinking of someone else until you said this. When I was little—probably 6 or 7, I was in love with Mister Rogers I was determined to grow up and marry him. My older sisters delighted in breaking my heart by telling me he was already married! Ah the innocence of youth.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Mine is Sam Neill (he’s also my longest-running celebrity crush <3), but so many people know him from Jurassic Park that saying it's him it doesn't make me sound that old. They don't have to know it was actually the third Omen movie. :)

      4. E. Chauvelin*

        Oh, yeah, apart from being grey ace and never feeling like whatever “that person is aesthetically pleasing/incredibly charismatic” feelings I might have about a “celebrity” really add up to a crush the way truly allosexual people mean it, there’s the part where anybody I could come up with whom I was enough of a devoted fan of that I could round up to a crush at an age when most people would be having first crushes (apparently) would either be a musical theatre actor that nobody has heard of or somebody I was watching on a television show older than I was. Dan Aykroyd was cute in the 70s but I was watching those SNL reruns twenty years later. Although possibly most elder millennials had a favorite Ghostbuster.

        1. Quill*

          Granted, I’m a younger millennial, but I’m surprised by that. They all look kinda like muppets.

      1. Golden Turnip*

        Yes, it can reveal your age. But as your coworkers can see you, they’re going to have a fair idea of your age anyway.

    6. fanciestcat*

      Yeah, that one is almost impressive for how it can be a landmine for basically all the protected classes lol. LGBT: Outing yourself, Race: If you grew up outside the US or in the US but immersed in a specific culture your first crush might be someone you don’t think anyone will recognize, Religion: A lot of people raised in fairly religious households don’t follow pop culture, and the idea of a celebrity crush is kind of fraught, Age: Reveals and emphasizes it, Gender: See outing above, and also I’m sure some people would make sexist judgements based on what you say. And of course, as an ace person I’ve always picked celebrities at random. Icebreakers should probably avoid romantic topics.

      1. maringe*

        I think people in protected classes know how to handle things a lot more than what they’re given credit for. Also, naming a first celebrity crush doesn’t necessarily reveal anything about age, sex, gender, religion, or anything else. I’ve known plenty of people who crushed on celebrities that go way back.

        Again: credit!

    7. Waiting on the bus*

      In one company, we had to say who our current celebrity crush was. I always thought that the concept of a celebrity crush was a joke and basically just meant your favourite. My favourite at the time was an actress, so when I gave her name apparently people took it to mean that I’m lesbian/bi.

      It was my first job and I was very young compared to most of my colleagues. My boss took me aside and delicately informed me about the rumours now going around. Apparently the grandboss had realised that I hadn’t taken this as an opportunity to come out and asked my boss to check in with me to make sure I was comfortable with the reaction and giving me an option to “correct the record”.

      I was flabbergasted that people take this whole concept
      of a celebrity crush seriously. Apparently, people do actually crush on and really thirst over celebrities!

    8. Faith the Twilight Slayer*

      I’m thinking I would have gone in the direction of Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Tony Montana. Maybe throw in a few well-known serial killers. But I’m awful.

  15. Lorna*

    One time an external motivational trainer brought in a bog roll, threw it at a random person and yelled: Tell me 1 good and one bad thing about you!
    Random person happened to be our oldest team mate, who was done and fed up with all this nonsense. He threw the roll back and said “I’m a good sport, but bad at participating in shite games!”…then he got up and went back to his desk to work.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m guessing a bog roll is a bean bag, but man is breaking the ice by pelting the participants with bog rolls an image.

      1. Three Flowers*

        My first visual imagining was some kind of British or Australian sandwich, flying to mayonnaise-y pieces as it sailed toward the victim.

        (Googled it; apparently it’s toilet paper)

        1. Three Flowers*

          (Now I’m curious about what other English speakers call that paper near the toilet)

          1. Hlao-roo*

            In the US, I have most commonly heard “toilet paper.” Occasionally heard “bath tissue” and I see that on grocery store aisle signs sometimes too.

            In the UK, I think “loo roll” and “bog roll” are both in use (probably varies regionally, based on whether the toilet is referred to as the loo or the bog).

            1. Betty*

              the grocery store signs (and advertisements) always say bathroom tissue. I assume they don’t want to say “toilet” – because…? It’s vulgar?

            2. Sel*

              My Australian husband has told me that “bog” in Australia means an actual turd, not the toilet. As in, “I have to go do a bog.” So believe me, “bog roll” threw me for quite the loop.

            3. It’s Suzy now*

              My British Aunt uses “loo roll,” and also “kitchen roll” for what we call Paper Towels, which I find both charming and effective.

          2. Bibliothecarial*

            Great icebreaker idea! Find out what terms your coworkers use for TP (/tongue in cheek)

            1. BubbleTea*

              A genuinely less awful one this has made me think of is “what word would you use to describe a small space between buildings that a person can walk down but a car cannot drive down?” or maybe “what do you call the round bread product that can be sliced and used to serve burgers?” In the UK, at least, the answers would be roughly geographical but wouldn’t have political connotations like “what are the names of the three main meals in a day?”

              1. Tiny clay insects*

                That question has political connotations in the UK? As someone living in the US, I would have had no idea and find that really interesting.

                1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

                  It would have socio-economical connotations, and those can (and oftentimes still do) point towards the political orientation of a person in the UK.

          1. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

            Given what it actually means, your answer made me laugh out loud. I suppose you’re not too far wrong…

      2. Posilutely*

        A bog roll is a roll of toilet paper. Hopefully unused, or this story takes a VERY swift turn for the worse.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          LOL!

          (If it’s both still in a roll form AND used, someone is doing something terribly wrong)

      3. osmoglossom*

        I just looked it up and bog roll = toilet paper. Which makes the response of “participating in shite games” even funnier to me.

      4. Indolent Libertine*

        “Bog roll” is British for toilet paper. Also known as “loo roll.”

      5. Quill*

        Hilariously, it’s a roll of toilet paper. Dung beetle guy’s relative was very on the nose.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I immediately thought some kind of sausage roll! I thought the trainer tossed him food!

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I misread it as “big roll” and was envisioning a big, fluffy, appetizing, cheap-ass bread roll. “Why did he throw it back?” I wondered. “I would’ve eaten it.”

    4. Mill Miker*

      Ugh. I was in one like this at university once. First the roll went around and we all had to “take the number of sheets you use” and then the second time round we all had to give a fact for each sheet.

      The facilitator started by taking 2 sheets of the nearly-transparent single ply (I don’t know what he accomplished with that), which set the bar for what a “reasonable” number of sheets were. It was all very awkward.

      1. Hornswoggler*

        What the hell..?!

        So if you have IBS you can take 17 sheets and then take half an hour to explain 17 facts?!

        I’d be so tempted to do that.

    5. AlwhoisThatAl*

      The Victorians used to call then “curl papers” as any mention of Toiletry was shocking to the middle-classes. On the plus side, Victorian toilets are a ceramic artform, some of the most lovely designs I’ve seen…

    6. Jane.*

      I can’t let this thread pass without commenting that “bog roll” (and “bog”) are informal and a bit crude – you might use it with friends, but not in a formal business setting. Don’t attend a meeting and tell your British host that “the bogs are our of bog roll”!

  16. ZSD*

    This isn’t as bad as any of the examples, but in one Zoom meeting, we were instructed to set our Zoom to Gallery mode and then draw the person we saw to the left of our own picture. Then people would guess who you drew. But they didn’t think about the fact that Zoom makes the first person to join the picture in the upper left, and then your own picture next to that, then other people’s pictures, so we all drew the same person.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      This is hilarious on so many levels!

      I hope the lucky winner of the portrait session was pleased with the results?

    2. PP Halpert*

      I can’t stop laughing. That poor person seeing terrible drawings of themself over and over and someone saying…..”hmmm…is it Steve…again?” For the 15th time.

    3. ferrina*

      rofl! Poor person that got drawn! I’d feel extremely awkward getting drawn once…but having my picture drawn by everyone?! That’s nightmare fuel!

      1. Zombeyonce*

        I’m sure you would have loved my totally photorealistic stick person, which shows off the extent of my art skills.

    4. Elsewise*

      That’s extremely hilarious! Would probably be a pretty fun one if you did the person to the right instead of the left, or a random number generator or something.

    5. AngelicGamer*

      This is hilarious to me because I move my own square to the bottom. There’s usually nobody to the left or right of me so I would just draw an empty box.

  17. Bird Lady*

    We had a new Executive Director start mid-week. She called for a meeting to meet everyone and get a sense of what we were working on and find ways to collaborate. She asked everyone to go around the conference table and introduce themself before we got into projects and deadlines. This seemed to be perfectly normal! Someone started by listing their name, title, and how many years they’d been with the org. We mostly all followed that example, some folks adding their preferred pronouns and others letting the new ED know where their offices were in the maze of our building.

    But someone decided this was the perfect opportunity to share a particular grievance. The Director of her Department had left, and a new person had not yet been hired. So this person had to fill in on some department leadership duties for a few months. She introduced herself with her current job title, but added that she was essentially the director of her department and had been promised the job. Who knows if it was true or not, it was just a super weird moment no one knew how to handle.

  18. CTT*

    I was at an event for a professional association and the president clearly wanted to branch out from the usual “say your name, where you work, and in what city,” which is commendable, but the ice breaker he came up with was “what movie character are you most like?” That is surprisingly hard! Mostly because very few movie characters are like real people. And I am someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and my mind completely blanked of all movie characters, and it seemed to be the same for everyone else. And then some people tried to go jokey for characters they clearly were not like but not everyone got the joke, or people went way too obscure. It did break the ice, but probably not how he intended.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      “which is commendable”

      Hard disagree, as demonstrated by what follows. This is only commendable if there is some good choice available.

    2. snailsharkk*

      Oh my god. We had this happen except we were supposed to say which movie character the person to our left reminded us of. The person next to me said I reminded them of Sheldon (from big bang). I’m ND so he’s not wrong :/ but it wasn’t fun.

      1. Web Crawler*

        Oof. I can imagine a million ways that question could go wrong. Getting compared to Sheldon would probably be my nightmare as a ND person (I hate that show so much).

        1. Good Enough For Government Work*

          oh god, me too.

          I knew a real-life Sheldon and we had to unceremoniously evict the little shit from our friendship group because he turned out to be an incorrigible pervert.

            1. Random Dice*

              Yes!!!!!!!!!!

              That show is so messed up.

              Howard is an insanely creepy terrible user abusive person. All of the fat jokes about his mother are horrific. His whole marriage is terrible because of him.

              Sheldon is a jerk, and it sucks that now a whole generation thinks of him when they think of autism. (Technically better than Rainman, but that’s a low bar.)

              Etc…

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I’ve decided my answer to this is R2-D2, so I’m sorted if it ever comes up I guess.

      2. Nea*

        My mind just went to all the horror movies I love. I suppose “Mrs. Bertha Mills” is waaaay too obscure.

      1. Nessun*

        HA! I’d be in there after you, for saying Violet Newstead (Lily Tomin in 9-to-5). (…she’s the first admin I could think of, but also, some days…yeah I vibe her attitude!)

    3. mlem*

      Some days I’m like “Narrator”, but others I’m like “Cafe Patron #3” or “clumsy background hiker”, you know?

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      If I’m ever asked that, I think I’ll say Bugs Bunny.

      I’m not much like Bugs (the closest I can come is that we both speak English), but he’s a character I can remember.

      (They probably don’t want “random famous person, who has an IMDB entry because he appeared as himself in a documentary.”)

    5. Becky*

      In my department when a new employee joins they are asked to introduce themselves giving their name, something the want to say about themselves (could be a hobby, could be about family, could be education, whatever) and then answer two questions:
      1. What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
      2. Who is your favorite Disney princess?

      These are just mean to be lighthearted ice-breakers and on the whole work pretty well. You get answers for 1 from standard grocery store options to “I don’t really eat cereal, I prefer oatmeal” or whatever and the Disney princess one can be fun because the gender balance in our department skews heavily male (tech company) – it is an interesting mix of guys who are perfectly happy to say Moana or whatever and those who go “well, Disney owns Star wars now so Princess Leia”

      1. Beveled Edge*

        Oof that second question would make me intensely uncomfortable because of how toxic and anti-feminist the whole Disney princess phenomenon has been historically, and I’d hate as a new person to be put in a position to decide how to answer that in front of a whole bunch of unfamiliar men.

        1. Becky*

          I feel like you are over thinking this. It is simply meant to be a light-hearted question. A new employee who was not from the US just said, “I’m not really familiar with them” another said “I don’t really have one.”

          1. Beveled Edge*

            Obviously it’s intended that way, but in reality it’s only a light-hearted question to someone who hasn’t noticed how bad Disney princesses are for little girls (like probably most of the men in that room). And I hope that if I was surprised with that question I would come up with a neutral lie, but this site is full of letters from people who weren’t sure how to respond in awkward situations.

          2. DataSci*

            Have you been reading this thread? Stuff that is meant to be light-hearted doesn’t always land that way with everything. Overly literal, analytic types (like myself) are probably especially prone to this – I assume if someone’s asking me for My Favorite X, that’s what they want, not “Make up something random in category X just because”.

            1. maringe*

              But no one can predict how things – at least some things – are going to land. I just appreciate the effort and move on.

          3. The Shenanigans*

            I am uncomfortable with a perfectly reasonable complaint that Disney princesses are sexist being called “overthinking this”. ESPECIALLY if they are in an office with a lot of men. This is why ice breakers beyond basic job titles and such are a bad idea. There is always someone who would feel uncomfortable. And there there is always someone who thinks other people’s discomfort doesn’t matter. Btw, “None as the whole idea is pretty sexist” would, in fact, be my out-loud answer. And then I’d say Twilight Sparkle (a My Little Pony) because I dislike or are neutral about pretty much every major property owned by Disney.

        2. Aquatic*

          Tell me you don’t know anything about Disney princesses and are stuck in a very narrow “nothing else happened after 2nd wave feminism” mindset without telling me you don’t know anything about Disney princesses and are stuck in a very narrow “nothing else happened after 2nd wave feminism” mindset :-/

      2. Bob-White of the Glen*

        General Mills and Hayley Mills.

        (Who would have made a great Trixie Belden BTW.)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Oh my god you’re right.
          Way off topic, but I wonder why they never made a TV show of that series.

      3. CowWhisperer*

        I’m a cis-white woman who looks young for her age. I was teaching an introductory Biology lab in graduate school in the twenty teens when a college student asked me who my favorite Disney princess was.

        I looked at him dead on, raised my eyebrows slightly and said, “Mulan.”

        He does a double- take, then says “Good choice!”

      4. AlwhoisThatAl*

        Similar to what someone else said above “Maid Marion ‘cos she’s a fox!”

    6. Kacihall*

      I’d be tempted to say the little sister in Siblings. which would confuse everyone who hasn’t heard of the movie (probably most people) or horrify the people who know the movie. (Her favorite line seems to be “I’m not r******d, I just wear glasses” and has no sense of how to deal with things because she’s like 8.)

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, but I don’t like how sexualized they made him in the merchandise line. Like, he’s supposed to be a role model for little kids, right?

  19. Awkwardorwhat*

    We had a trainer take us though a guided meditation, which took the best part of 45 minutes. We didn’t know this was coming, but we just about managed to go along with it without laughing. Until…he said “and when was the last time you were grateful for your feet?” and prattled on about how they carry us our whole life. Problem was, one of my close colleagues has been a double amputee since a childhood illness and wears prosthetics. I caught her eye, she caught mine and we both completely lost it. Amazingly the company pressed on with the session but we excused ourselves and went to the cafe.

    1. Chauncy Gardener*

      Reading this during a zoom meeting and had to turn off my camera super fast!!
      LOL!!

  20. Fives*

    We were once told to imagine a pen was sticking out of our belly buttons and then “write” our name in the air in front of us. I never liked icebreakers before this, but I hated them after.

      1. She of Many Hats*

        This where all those years of signing digi credit slips with a squiggle and a dot or slash comes in handy.

    1. Fives*

      You all are my people! When I’ve told this in person, people don’t react that much and I had what nested if it was just me. :)

      Thankfully it was just our first names and mine is short.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I feel like this is an appropriate activity if you are at improv class and basically nowhere else.

      Although this did remind me that when I studied Korean in college we had a teacher whose go-to joke punishment was “write your name in the air with your butt”. Honestly first-year language classes are so kindergarten generally that writing your name in the air with your butt in front of a bunch of mostly-freshmen doesn’t even move the needle because you just did a group sing-along of Head Shoulders Knees and Toes in Korean complete with relevant dance moves.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Yeah, that feels like “improv class” or possibly “exercise assigned as part of PT” (I’ve certainly been assigned to try to trace letters in the air with my feet as part of ankle PT, anyway, so maybe there’s some body-part reason to do this in that context).

      2. Dark Macadamia*

        I was thinking like a bachelorette party, along the lines of the “twerk pong” game where you strap a tissue box to your butt and shake ping pong balls out of it lol. You should not be… gyrating… at a work event!

    3. ceiswyn*

      AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
      AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
      *pause to breathe*
      AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

    4. Kyrielle*

      I hope someone springs this on me some day. In the *moment* I wouldn’t come up with it, but I now have a planned response: reach down, “grab” the “pen” with my hand, and write my name in the air with my hand.

      Because No. Just no. To the actual intent of that icebreaker.

        1. Fives*

          It’s not. We had to write like our belly buttons were holding he pen. It was exactly as awful as you’re imagining.

          1. ENFP in Texas*

            If I ever ran into this, at least my belly dance classes and the ability to do belly rolls would finally come in handy…

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Same with my burlesque dance training, but I’m not showing those moves to coworkers unless we all work at a club.

      1. WishIWasATimeTraveller*

        I may have misunderstood what you meant by grabbing your “pen” because I was momentarily horrified

    5. Don'tbeadork*

      OMG this is so, so, awful. And hilarious to picture, but I’d hate to be in that session. It would not break any ice with me, just make me even frostier toward everyone in that session.

      What drugs are these people on when they come up with these things?

    6. Kayem*

      I am so very glad my microphone was muted when I read this. Now I can’t stop picturing it, so I’m glad my camera is also off.

    7. Cat*

      So, I get that the issue here is the gyration in the workplace, but honestly first thing that comes to mind is to question whether it’s supposed to be written from your perspective or that of someone facing you?

    8. DBA*

      Back in the 90’s, my high school did this for the teachers during training before the school year. I know this because the training session was televised on the local public access station for some reason.

  21. anon2*

    To start a 3-day session, we had to draw a picture of the job we wanted as kid. Then everyone would guess based on the drawing. Except I watched a lot of Unsolved Mysteries as a kid and wanted to be either a medical examiner or crime scene investigator. Naturally I drew one of those body outlines and a crime scene. It was weird for people to guess. It was even weirder that we had to display our drawing for the entire 3 days.

    1. MsM*

      All I can think of whenever anyone asks that question is the time I apparently horrified my extremely practical, feminist grandma by wanting to be a fairy princess, so…Not sure if that would have played better or worse than “crime scene.”

      1. Wendy Darling*

        For a lot of years as a kid I wanted to be a dog.

        Not a vet. Not a dog trainer. I wanted to be a dog.

        What can I say, I love dogs.

        1. WannabeAstronaut*

          I wanted to be a cat! Still do tbh, would love to loaf around in the sun all day

        2. MigraineMonth*

          From the amazing BBC radio show Cabin Pressure:

          “I’ve wanted to be a pilot ever since I was 5.”

          “What did you want to be before then?”

          “A plane.”

    2. ferrina*

      lol! That’s amazing!

      I wanted to be the Grand Dictator of the Entire World and frequently worked on my plan for World Domination. I was deeply inspired by Pinky and the Brain as a kid.

    3. Caledonian Crow*

      I wanted to be She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain. Yes, from the song. I would have drawn the heck out of that picture!

    4. Elitist Semicolon*

      My sixth-grade teacher started the first day of school by asking us more or less what we wanted to be when we grew up. Having no patience for crap even at the tender age of 10, I flatly said, “Neil Diamond’s backup singer.”

  22. MsSolo (UK)*

    We used to have what was called “Triumph, Trivia, Trauma” on one team I was on and it’s testament to it being a fairly healthy workplace that it was actually one of the better icebreakers we had there, compared with the cliché ones that replaced it when we got a new team lead. Partly because it was consistent, unlike a constant rotation of “this meeting we’ll do baby photos, next time we’ll do weirdest thing in your bag” etc, and partly because there was an understanding that it was in a professional context, so no one felt pressured to talk about actual trauma. You could pick one or more category, you could go personal, professional or neither (sharing a random fact you learned from last night’s QI for Trivia was always a safe bet), and I learned a lot about various team members’ home renovation horror stories that definitely built camaraderie. However, I do get why the new team lead moved away from it, and I can absolutely see how it would go wrong in a more toxic environment. I just wish I could think of another alliterative phrase that would produce the same kind of light-hearted answers without making people worry they would have to share genuinely upsetting stuff.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      (for example, the stuff people usually said was things like “triumph: I got the CPS report in on time, trivia: the average train delay in the UK is 40 minutes, trauma: my train was delayed by 45.” or “triumph: my sunflower is currently the tallest of all the ones our family planted, trivia: the tallest sunflower ever was tumpty-tum cm, trauma: I sent an email to the CEO last week but managed to typo her name”)

    2. Enescudoh*

      Replace Trauma with Trouble? To make clear it’s a signpost for “what isn’t going so well” but also people knowing they can just say, I spent my commute in a stranger’s armpit, and don’t have to share actual trauma.

    3. There's a G&T with my name on it*

      Trial/tribulation? Possibly still a bit heavy, particularly if not in a similarly healthy workplace..

    4. Thistle Pie*

      “Tribulations” might work? I think its technically on the same level as a trauma, but it’s modern usage (at least in my circles) wouldn’t trigger fear that I need to share my deepest darkest experiences.

      1. Sassenach*

        Temptations? As in guilty pleasure or something you find hard to resist …like chocolate ice cream or binge watching The Bachelor?

        1. AA*

          Gross, no. Strongly not in favour of doing this assigning moral weight to food etc in the workplace (or anywhere)

    5. Madeleine Matilda*

      Different than trauma, but what about tall tale? People would have to guess if it was true trivia or triumph or a tall tale.

    6. Captain Vegetable ( Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      My work has done Rose, Bud, and Thorn, which is something good, something you’re looking forward to, and the Thorn is any issue you’ve encountered or are expecting… Thorn could be adopted into your system, I think!

    7. M*

      My previous, quite awful, workplace insisted on “rose and thorn” at weekly meetings/end of big event debriefs/etc – by which they meant “good thing and bad thing from relevant period”. Most of my colleagues were sane enough to keep it within a professional range – “two of the llamas got out of the paddock, but also, have you seen the new baby ones? adorable” – but our CEO was a massive oversharer, and had largely implemented this so that she had a prompt to overshare. Which she did. Frequently. Including about her current opinion of various staff.

  23. Salsa Your Face*

    This wasn’t terrible by design, but we asked a group of clients to talk about their favorite food from childhood. One, who was French, talked about how his mother used to make him crap. Cue an awkward back and forth between the meeting host and the client before we finally realized that “crap” meant “crepe” and this client actually did enjoy his mother’s cooking.

    1. SarahKay*

      On a French exchange visit when I was about 15 the mother of my host family told me that we’d be having mice for supper that night, and would I like my mice hot or cold?
      Shy 15-year-old me, trying not to be the bad English person who couldn’t accept a different culture and preferences, politely said I thought I’d prefer hot ice, figuring that this would be the lesser of the two evils.
      To my huge relief, half an hour later I was served a bowl of hot maize, or what I knew as sweetcorn. I’ve never been so delighted to eat sweetcorn in my life.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I’m lying next to my almost-asleep toddler and I’m concerned my silent shaking with laughter is going to wake him up because this is hilarious!

    2. Elsewise*

      We had to do that in a meeting recently (“what was your childhood comfort food”), and it made me realize that I didn’t have one! (Very “health-conscious” mom and absentee dad, so food was either cold pizza or dry salad and was not meant to be enjoyed.) Don’t you just love realizing childhood trauma during an ice breaker!

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Oh, no, I’m so sorry. Yeah, what I’m realizing from all of these stories is that any kind of work icebreaker (or maybe any icebreaker?) should absolutely stay away from childhood experiences.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Latchkey kid here, and my childhood comfort food is anything cold straight out of the fridge, eaten straight out of the pot with a big spoon. ‘Cause that’s how my best friend and I used to eat my mom’s cooking when we stopped by my place after school.

        I sometimes make myself a batch of kotlety, then eat them cold out of the fridge over the next several days, because that’s peak childhood joy to me.

        1. Karo*

          Mine is Stella D’oro cookies, but they have to be stale. My grandmother kept them around for us, but she didn’t eat them and we could only eat one at a time, so any container she bought would last a month or more.

          I got them recently and ate one fresh and had to leave them out to harden for a few days. It tasted wrong.

  24. Spearmint*

    I generally hate any version of “tell us something interesting about yourself”, but I’ve been subjected to it many times in school and work. It’s just so hard to answer and doesn’t make me feel at ease. The things I think are interesting about me may not be things I want to share at work. I often feel analysis paralysis trying to think of something that’s not completely generic that I’m also comfortable sharing.

    Also there will inevitably be one person who does share something really unique and interesting, like that they personally rescued a litter of puppies stranded in a burning building, and now everyone else is going to feel boring by comparison.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      “I once spent six years disguised as a kindly British nanny so I could spend more time with my kids.”

    2. EMP*

      I have a single “fun fact” that I use for anything like this that’s just a random coincidence thing (think, “I have the same birthday as George Washington!”). Having a go-to really helps me.

      1. BlondeSpiders*

        I use this one too! Except I share a birthday with Charles Manson, which always gets a weird look.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          According to the book Motel of Mystery, my birthdate is the day modern North American civilization collapsed. (In the book, an accidental reduction in the price of third-class mail buried the entire continent under junk mail and fliers.)

    3. Not a Sharer*

      That question was asked at the first management meeting led by a new director along with name, department, what you do, etc. Everyone said something fairly innocuous until we got to one man who said “I have five children by five different women.” Dead silence while people tried to figure out 1) the right response (atta boy! maybe?) and 2) how THIS guy had managed to snare five different women. My turn came right after his and I ignored the entire “something interesting” part and used up all my time on describing my job.

      1. choirwoman*

        No, it’s not that this guy had managed to snare five different women, it’s that at least four women had had the courage to leave him.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      I once panicked & said there wasn’t anything interesting about me. A coworker jumped in & answered for me.

      1. Don'tbeadork*

        I had something similar happen, which is when I discovered that what other people thought was interesting about me was just me being me (probably because I wasn’t living their life, same as I think them being them is interesting about them because it helps me get why they are as they are).

    5. ceiswyn*

      I had one of those, and shared that I was once intercepted by three RAF jets while learning to fly. The guy leading the offsite wanted to know more, so I also told the story of how my landings were so bad that Control came down from the tower just to mock me.

      Later in the session, the leader took a dislike to me (he was drawing some exceedingly tenuous conclusions based on not much evidence, and I’d studied enough statistics to know that) and referred to me as ‘Crash and burn’ for the rest of the day. He got a few cheap laughs, I got to relive my years of being butt of all the jokes at school. I’m still annoyed.

    6. Smithy*

      We have a new team meeting organizer who sends out the agenda somewhat in advance every week and they always include an ice breaker. And at first, I genuinely did hate them. But we’re not a huge group, and having time to think of an answer has significantly de-stressed the process.

      Over time, it’s made it clear that while some are just genuinely bad – they are often so hateful because feeling under pressure to be charming and professional on the spot is the most miserable. Recently, we had one that was saying something new we’d done recently. Another colleague and I had to have a ten-minute brainstorm because we could not think of anything – but the end result in the meeting was a really funny, team bonding moment. Not everyone shared things that were very personal or wildly amazing, but it was clear that no one was sharing something they felt pressured or panicked to share. So stories that were funny or amusing felt more anchored in “laughing together”.

      1. Anon in Aotearoa*

        So the agenda always includes the topic of the icebreaker? I really like that idea. It takes away all that “oh no I have to think of something interesting and work-appropriate and non-traumatic and ideally not excluding anyone on the spot” anxiety, and as you show, it results in better responses and probably more effective actual, you know, breaking of ice and forming of team camaraderie.

    7. Loredena*

      My go to fun fact is that I met my spouse in an MMO. True. Innocuous but unusual. Something I don’t mind discussing.

    8. PotteryYarn*

      We often tack on “Share a fun fact about yourself!” when doing introductions with new employees, but the bar for “fun” is very low. During the last round, the new hire’s fun fact was that they were left-handed, and I commented, “Oh, Alex is also left-handed!” and then later, Alex’s fun fact was “I didn’t know that PotteryYarn knew I was left-handed.”

      We also will give a prompt if someone is stuck, like “What’s your favorite color, movie, food, etc.?” to keep it light.

    9. Roy Donk*

      My go-to interesting fact used to be “I’ve never broken a bone.” Last year I had a bicycle accident and broke three. Thank God I haven’t been asked the question since.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My younger son was extremely accident-prone as a young kid. I saw an essay(?) of his once where for some reason he had to write up his medical history and it went something like “I broke my right elbow, my left wrist, my big toe, and my pinky finger (*I DID NOT BREAK THEM ALL AT THE SAME TIME)” Important detail, I agree!

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I used to have “never broken a bone”, “never had general anesthesia” and “never been hospitalized”. Unfortunately, it’s been a rough few years.

    10. Lana Kane*

      I’ve always wanted to say “Oh this is very interesting…Hitler and I share the same sun, moon, and rising zodiac signs” (which is very disturbingly true), but have never had the nerve. lol

    11. Natalie*

      I usually say something like, “I’m Natalie, and something interesting about me is that I’m completely unable to think of anything interesting about myself when I’m put on the spot during ice-breakers…”
      It’s worked so far!

    12. SunriseRuby*

      My favorite fun fact for a while was “I’ve thrown up on Mount Kilimanjaro, ” which is true. I’ve outgrown sharing that by now, though.

    13. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I am the one person. I once jumped a security gate into St Peter’s (the one in the Vatican) with three nuns, one of whom was carrying a plastic Tinkerbell purse.

      1. raincoaster*

        If I were facilitating this meeting it would screech to a halt while I demanded the whole store. It sounds like a Monty Python skit directed by Guy Richie.

  25. GirlsJustWantToFreelance*

    There goes mine: an interviewer asked me how being fat impacted my work life. But don’t worry, she quickly added that if I didn’t have any examples from there I could just talk how about being fat impacted my life in general and how did I overcome that.

    It was a position in an industry not even remotely related to beauty or fitness.

    I told her exactly what I thought of her questions and the level of incompetence she displayed and walked out of the interview.

    1. Dittany*

      I can kinda see the thought process there – “I want to know about a time they faced adversity (as being fat is of course a terrible burden) and want to personalize it to show that I am Connecting With Her As A Person” – but it really should have been overridden by other thought processes about how that is a TERRIBLE FUCKING IDEA

    2. Wendy Darling*

      “Well, this one time this jerk interviewer asked me how being fat impacted my work life…”

    3. Hardly working*

      Good grief!

      I hope you sent some very direct feedback to the organisation as well (if you felt able at the time), that’s so far beyond okay.

    4. Observer*

      In my imagination I would be telling her that she’s just provided the best possible answer to her own question. And since I do often tell people that I’m going to keep whatever incident in my bank of “war stories”, it’s theoretically possible that I might actually do that. In real life, I suspect that I would just freeze.

      Good for you for walking out!

    5. Butter Scotch*

      I’m fat. I *own* a plus size activewear company. I do a lot of interviews (of candidates, but also podcasts, etc). Most (not all) of the people I talk to are also plus size. During interviews I talk about how being a plus size person doing XYZ athletic pursuit inspired me to start my business or how it’s impacted this aspect of that thing.

      You know what I’ve literally never asked a candidate, employee, customer, host, random passerby? “How has being fat impacted you?” Like, never.

      I’ve also never asked a brunette how having brown hair has impacted their life. Being fat is a piece of information about a person. It doesn’t define them.

      Ugh! End rant.

  26. Skates*

    I’m a professor so I do use ice breakers in my classroom (honestly because they help me remember names and help students look at each other and not just me the first week). So many are bad! Last year I asked everyone for a boring fact about themselves (my example was that I had cheerios for breakfast that morning— the idea is you say something but it doesn’t have to be personal or revealing in any way). Yet somehow in two different classes on the same day different students shared some version of “my boring fact is that my dad abandoned our family”.

    1. BellyButton*

      Oh bless their hearts. I find at that age they are really trying to figure out who they are and many think tragedy defines them.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I wouldn’t “bless their hearts” too much here.

        At 18 years of age that kind of trauma can very much define who you are.

        1. BellyButton*

          I didn’t mean it that way, but I understand why it was received like that. I apologize.

        2. pbnj*

          I think they meant it as an expression of sympathy, and not in the passive-aggressive “bless your heart” way. Same phrase, multiple meanings.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I still am not comfortable with this. Perhaps “the idea is you say something but it doesn’t have to be personal or revealing in any way” should not be an idea and should be made explicit.

      1. ferrina*

        Nah, I think Skates is fine. Weird stuff can happen in classrooms. When I was in college I was dealing with undiagnosed cPTSD and undiagnosed ADHD. I was a mess. I could picture me doing something like these students. Part of it was me trying to normalize my own life so I wouldn’t feel so alone and weird.

        1. Quill*

          Brain was not great during college either, and yeah. Mine would not have been, you know, that, because I still couldn’t talk about it, but oh boy did I make some jokes that could send people screaming for the hills.

      2. Frankie*

        Yeah, college students will share all kinds of things in unexpected contexts and it’s really impossible to completely protect a conversation against it.

        1. AFac*

          This is true for kids in general, and many college students are, in some ways, still kids.

          I know many, many things I kinda wish I didn’t from students replying to “how are things going in your classes?” or “are you attending the department talk on Monday?”

          On the other hand, I think I have helped a few students by listening to what they told me, taking them seriously, and then working to figure out a solution.

        2. JustaTech*

          Yes to this. When we did freshman orientation at my (very small) college almost everyone who got up to talk about themselves during one session (I don’t remember what it was supposed to be about) talked about their parents getting divorced or their dad leaving.

          I think it was a combination of 1) them still processing this major change in their lives and 2) the idea that people stay married “for the kids” then divorce as soon as they’re in college.

          It was still awkward as heck.

    3. ursula*

      My old work occasionally used the icebreaker, “Give us your name, [your role here], and something you read, watched, played, or listened to lately that you enjoyed.” I think mostly everyone could pull a movie, tv show, game, podcast, or piece of music they have consumed lately and liked. Plus you can either say some Top 40 song and reveal nothing about yourself, or you can say Yellowjackets or whatever and the other 3 kindred spirits in the room are immediately like “I will see you at the first break session to discuss this” and you have actually made a connection.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Last year, our school had one about “if money was no object, what band or artist would you go and see? Or if you’re not into music, it can be a sporting event or a show or something.”

        It was interesting to hear what people chose without being too personal. I did have to explain to a couple of coworkers in their 20s what our principal meant when he said he’d go back in time to Italia ’90! (First soccer World Cup Ireland qualified for and a real national moment!)

      2. Michelle Smith*

        This is perfectly fine if your tastes are mainstream. Most of the media content I consume is either video game related in a relatively conservative industry where that hobby can be seen as childish or is not something at all appropriate to discuss at work (e.g. supernatural erotica books). Please never ask me about the media I consume on the spot, I panic!!

        1. ursula*

          My media diet is actually shockingly similar to yours (hi? lol) and my industry is also extremely conservative. I’m just so used to filtering those interests out of my professional persona that my brain skips right over those and reaches for, I dunno, a song I heard on the radio, an article I read off of twitter, or a tv show I watched with my partner or mom or something. But YMMV, certainly!

          1. Lurker Cat*

            I maintain a supply of classic murder mysteries that I pull out whenever someone asks me what I’m reading. And I only admit to watching GBBO

        2. Chirpy*

          Yup, even if it’s *insert any Lucasfilm/ Marvel/Big Franchise here* there’s a full range from “I saw that once and liked it” to “I do screen accurate cosplay for charity” to “I know incredibly minute trivia” and those are not always seen as the same thing.

          Let alone being judged on whether your particular fandom is better or worse than sports fandom, or you and your boss like completely opposite music genres, etc etc.

    4. EvilQueenRegina*

      I remember my dad telling me once about a new teacher, or headteacher (I forget which) being introduced to a class of primary school age children and asking them all for a fact about themselves. She ended up getting “Hello, my name’s So and so and my mummy’s in prison”.

      1. Skates*

        Are there though? 125 names every six months? I just really don’t think it’s that burdensome to introduce yourself and say like 5 words! We’re stuck together for 16 weeks and we’re gonna talk about serious stuff this semester, it’s not going to hurt anyone to intro themselves. These students chose to disclose heavier things, but that wasn’t required and they had their reasons I’m sure! I don’t think this story is like a nightmare scenario or anything. Or a reason to never ask a collective question again.

        1. Kayem*

          The only reason I objected them to them as a student was because of the repetition of doing it over and over, especially in the latter years majors where we already knew each other. Or in grad school where the program’s course rotation schedule meant we wound up with the same group of classmates through almost every course and all the instructors used the same icebreaker formula every time.

          I while can understand from the instructor’s side it’s helpful for remembering names, I really hated the first day of class. I would have rather spent that 20 minutes getting more Q&A time about our projects.

    5. Phony Genius*

      I’m curious if these were freshmen or older students. I could see this being more likely to happen with first-year students who are more unsure of themselves than more-experienced students who may have a better understanding of the intent of the question.

    6. Katy*

      This is why I have students interview and introduce each other instead of trying to introduce themselves. They get to chat with someone for a few minutes, and then you usually end up with their name and something relatively innocuous about them.

      1. linger*

        Once upon a time I was assigned to teach a freshman drama class. This was a laughable idea for many reasons, not least because it was my first year teaching, and these were students for whom English was a foreign language. So I used a warm-up activity basically to help me remember names and work out their vocabulary level. Students stand in a circle, with different coloured balls introduced in turn with progressively more difficult tasks: Say your own name and throw it on; Say the name of the person you’re throwing to; … and so on up to … Nominate a person, then give the ball some quality using an adjective (e.g. “Fiery ball!”) and the person thrown to then reacts as if it has that property.
        Of course there was one student who grinned and shouted “Linger! Sexy ball!” and threw it to me.
        That was a fun year.

    7. The Shenanigans*

      I had a teacher who asked us to write our name and a fun fact on an Index card so he could remember us better. I liked that better than having to share something with a roomful of strangers.

      My fact was that I have synesthesia. The prof was like THAT IS SO COOL and asked me about it after class lol.

  27. Anon for this one*

    The “scar” one is making me glad I have some boring ones (a couple faded burn scars from taking stuff out of the oven) so I wouldn’t need to out myself as having had cancer and acquired some surgical scars.

    1. VermiciousKnid*

      When I read the scar one, my mind immediately went to my most recent stitches – they came from a second-degree tear while birthing my son. I bet one could get that question stricken from the list for all time if the answer started, “Let me tell you all about how I tore my gooch…”

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      My ice breaker is always that I have a scar from a horse bite anyways. I like to keep a few in the bag, since I can’t always think on my feet well.

      1. The OG Sleepless*

        That reminds me! I have a tiny chip in one of my front teeth from a cow hitting me in the face. I’m going to keep that one as my go-to interesting fact.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      I have a slightly fun but trivial one: I have, to this day, a scar from a kid running me over with a tricycle in preschool.

      It’s just a dumb way to get a scar but it’s also kind of amazing that I still have a mark on my knee in my 40s from something that happened when I was 4.

      I used to have a scar on my arm from the family cat really having a go at me while I was holding him so my mom could apply flea treatment, but it looked just like a self-harm scar. I got it when I was a very moody 13 year old and turned up to 8th grade the next day with a row of bandaids up my arm, so for like a solid year I had people being very sensitive and caring about my injury/scar. I kept telling people it was from my cat but no one believed me. Annoying at the time, kind of hilarious in retrospect.

      1. not a hippo*

        My friend in HS worked at her parents’ grooming salon and one day she came in with her arm heavily bandaged. No one believed that an angry cat objected to a necessary mat clipping and not that she needed some kind of psychiatric help. She even joked about it and showed a photo of the demon cat!

    4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I wonder what the facilitator would do if my friend’s mom was in that group. Her body is like 75% covered in burns, mostly on her face, arms, and legs. There was an accident at her farm and she was burned when she was little.

    5. Thomas*

      I have a funny one which I’d probably share, without thinking that a manager who is so inclined could web search it and likely find my forum accounts, and I don’t want my boss reading my off-colour jokes or my political views.

    6. Pink Hard Hat*

      This is actually one I have a trivial answer for – good to now be prepared if this ever comes up! I have a small scar on my finger from cutting myself using a crappy college table knife while making apple crisp. I told a friend how I had gotten the cut, but she heard “making apple crisp” as “making out with Chris.” Her boyfriend at the time was named Chris, so it was an awkward 30 seconds straightening that out!

    7. MigraineMonth*

      I don’t think I even had a visible scar until mid-thirties, when I acquired an impressive one (about 8 inches long).

    8. WS*

      I had to do this in an icebreaker and I have a long, visible scar across my throat from cancer surgery that looks awfully like someone tried to remove my head. So I answered with the scar on my thumb (got caught between the edge of a cat food tin and the can opener, ripped out a big chunk of my thumb, digital scanners can’t always recognise my thumbprint) and people kept side-eyeing my throat for the rest of the discussion!

    9. AGD*

      Same. I’ve seen this question a few times but I really don’t want to talk at work about my history of dermatillomania, so I always seize the chance to blab about my surprise diagnosis of appendicitis years ago. That’s an interesting story about something non-stigmatized, which involves only a small scar that no one from work is ever going to see.

      1. allathian*

        Yup, and the advantage of a hidden scar is that you can claim one even if you haven’t had appendicitis…

        My “interesting” scar is a chicken pox scar between my eyebrows.

    10. Quill*

      A lifetime of arts and crafts has given me “these are from the first twenty times I hot-glued myself to something.”

  28. BellyButton*

    OMG the dung beetle LOL I love it!!

    If you want a fast easy one as an ice breaker for a group that may not know each other- I do the standard “Tell us your name, your team, how long you’ve been with the company…” and then I have these little pack of Story Cubes, you roll the 6 or 9 dice and tell a story that is based on the the pictures on the cubes. It is fast, not personal and people can be as brief or as descriptive as they want. I have been told by many that while they hate ice breakers that one at least takes the attention of them and anything personal.

    You can find the cubes in many places I got them on Amazon for less than $9 a pack. I have 3 to for packs so I can spread them out and people can pass them and roll before they are put right on the spot.

    1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      I’m an extrovert, fairly quick on my feet, and I’m the kind of nightmare that actually enjoys many icebreakers, even the ones that people above are complaining about. I would absolutely HATE this. I hate inventing stories for people over the ages of 5, and am not a big fan of it even for people under the age of 5 who will forget them within a couple of days.

      Just wanted to provide that context in case any one thought that this would be a neutral activity accepted by all.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’d do this in at improv comedy class, maybe with friends, but not at work. Six to nine also seems like an absurd number of things to incorporate into a story.

    2. Suramme*

      That sounds worse than having to explain my scars, honestly! I’d probably throw up from the anxiety if I had to do this is a work setting. Please tell me you let people opt out without comment. This is my idea of hell.

    3. Phoenix Wright*

      Ehh, I’ve enjoyed doing this with some of my friends, and even own a set of the Harry Potter cubes, but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable doing it with strangers or people I’m not close to. So while it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever for me, it certainly wouldn’t be something I look forward to either.

    4. shjwou*

      For another data point, I would also really dislike this and immediately panic. I’m not a creative person.

      1. Chirpy*

        I am a creative person, but I’d be wary of this icebreaker. I’ve had too many people think my flavor of creativity is just super weird.

  29. phunke*

    I actually think this is a fun one (not for work meetings, maybe) – my ex sometimes starts hobby group meetings with “What’s the best roast you’ve ever received?” just because he loves sharing the story of my best friend hitting him with “David, being a white man isn’t even your worst trait.”

    1. Code monkey manager*

      Yeeeeah probably not great for work, although that roast is truly amazing! But I do absolutely want the chance to tell more people that my tween daughter once told me I burn the candle at neither end, which I think is hilarious.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        These are both amazing lol. I think mine would be when a student told me I dress like a mom (I was like 24, not a mom, and had recently tried to upgrade my post-college wardrobe a bit by shopping at Ann Taylor).

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I had my grandmother tell me, “ah, you’re an oul’ half-nun,” by which she meant I was a goody-two-shoes or something like that.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      I’d only be able to think of one and it’s not even mine. I’d probably just tell people that my best friend said I’m “just a virgin who can’t drive” and see how many people recognized it.

      1. madge*

        I hope we don’t work at the same place because I’m stealing this. And now I have to watch that again, maybe this weekend.

        I am not someone who can think on my feet. I’m working with a therapist now but my mind just…blanks…with these types of questions. Doesn’t get scrambled, or have too much to choose from, it’s just nothingness. It’s new, really unsettling, and I’m constantly trying to hide/navigate it while working on a solution. Obviously, this is extreme, but my therapist did mention that exercises like this can be hell for people with PTSD (regardless of its root). Just let people opt out without hassling them. I’m happy to cheer others on while they answer.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah my brain would not do these things at one point. Hi, I’m Quill, and *sixty seconds of TV static.*

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      I thought at first I was going to have to describe the roast my spouse makes, with fresh rosemary…

      I was a youth leader talking to a teen at church and told her I wasn’t sure if her dad had ever been a kid. Her response, “yah, but I don’t think you’ve ever been an adult.”

  30. Zephy*

    I’ve done the “tell us about a scar” thing as an icebreaker. The facilitator called it “Battle-Scar Galactica,” which was cute, I guess. It’s very much a know-your-audience kind of game and it definitely can go sideways very quickly. My experience with this game was during my term of service with City Year in Miami, 2013-14. They did a lot of these kinds of things, I wouldn’t quite call it a “trauma-bonding speedrun,” but they did ask us to get very very honest and vulnerable with each other more or less right off the bat. The nature of the work was such that it was necessary to be able to trust your teammates implicitly, but we only had, you know, six weeks or so to go from being 200 strangers to 14 cohesive units. It was not a “normal” job by basically any metric.

    I will say though, I don’t remember anyone else’s scar stories from that round of Battle-Scar Galactica. It helps that I also left the city after my term of service ended, so I haven’t continued to be around any of those people; I imagine if you play this with a group of people you see every day, the stories they share will stick in your mind longer.

    1. Ell*

      I did City Year that same term too, and we had sooooo many trauma dumping sessions. I now use them as an example of what not to do in my regular job.

      1. Zephy*

        Ayy! What site? I was in Miami!

        I don’t know what a better way to speedrun building the level of camaraderie that the job required would be, but taking essentially all of BTA and keeping it in mind as a “what not to do” for real professional jobs is probably a good plan.

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Yikes. I definitely don’t want to tell the story of how I got my scars. Who are these people and why do I want to risk destabilizing my mental health by dredging up trauma to unqualified people??

      1. Kayem*

        And even if it’s physical scars not associated with trauma, do I really want their first impression of me to be how I cut the end of my thumb off chopping potatoes on Thanksgiving?

  31. Nonny-nonny-non*

    I have a feeling I’ve shared this before, but it’s definitely a good example of how an ice-breaker can go wrong.
    My site had a high-level visitor from the US and the management team (me included) were asked to prepare him a presentation on our facility and ourselves as managers, including an ‘ice-breaker’ note about what we liked to do outside of work. Several of the managers referenced their love of classic cars and/or motorbikes on their slide, and Sheldon asked us as a group what he could put as a hobby. Howard suggested Dolphin Polishing to much laughter, which both Sheldon and I assumed was because it was such a silly suggestion, and the discussion moved on.
    VIP duly arrived and we did the presentation and discovered that Sheldon had included Dolphin Polishing as a hobby on his slide. The room went oddly silent but VIP didn’t pay much attention to it – which it turned out was just as well!
    Once VIP was gone, Howard confessed he was using Dolphin Polishing as a euphemism for a man… let us say, polishing a specific bit of himself, and had assumed Sheldon knew that. Apparently most of the team had indeed understood the euphemism but Sheldon really, really had not. (For the record, no, neither had I).
    Mostly I pray that it really did just go over the head of visiting VIP!

    1. Expelliarmus*

      Oof how awkward! I never knew about that euphemism either, and if I had heard it without this context, I probably would have thought it was a joke profession like “llama wrangling”.

      1. Nonny-nonny-non*

        I think Howard had just made dolphin-polishing up on the spot and the rest of the team, being all men (I was the only woman, apart from our HR manager, who wasn’t in the planning session), realised what he meant. Possibly there were nudge-nudge signals to each other or something, that Sheldon and I missed.
        As you say, I had assumed it was just a silly joke suggestion, not realising there were layers to the silliness.

  32. Observer*

    #1 Porn star name. What does that even mean!??!??! I don’t think I would have an answer for that one.

    1. EMP*

      I haven’t heard of anyone doing this since ~high school but there would be a “what’s your porn star” meme which would be like your pet’s nickname + the street you grew up on, so your name would be “Booboo Everest” or something like that. I don’t know why it was a thing.

    2. DataSci*

      There are internet games, I suspect intended to get personal information, where you generate things like “porn star name” or “superhero name” based on things like the month you were born in and the street you grew up on. Always lie if you encounter these.

    3. BellyButton*

      To find your name your first name is that of your first pet and the last name is that of the street you grew up on. It isn’t smart to give that out, because those are often security questions to retrieve a password.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m thinking that it’s not a coincidence that I have no memory of this before the internet became ubiquitous, along with security questions like these.

          1. ferrina*

            Yep, I remember this from my pre-childhood youth. It inevitably ended in confusion, since most of us lived on numbered streets. There aren’t many numbers that are “porn star name” worthy

            1. MsM*

              Sounds like a great potential set-up for a sci-fi novel featuring a bunch of androids trying to escape the limitations of their programming.

            2. Lily Rowan*

              It’s definitely pre-internet, and I only enjoy it because mine is really good. It might actually be a better non-sex work stage name, but either way.

      1. Elsewise*

        I imagine young Caledonian Crow was very precocious, growing up on Ticket Street and naming their first pet HR.

    4. Lirael*

      when I was a kid, pre-internet, it was your first pet’s name + your mother’s birth name. mine is deeply weird and makes me feel uncomfortable

    5. ConstantlyComic*

      I had a supervisor at my first job assign everyone a stripper name, which I imagine was similar. Mercifully, the only one I remember now was the timid young man she dubbed “Day Shift”

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I am curious as to what “didn’t come back” extended to. The meeting? The workshop? Work in general? Because that would be a heck of a quitting story.

  33. Magpie*

    My company had US, UK and Canada offices. We had a big event where all of us in a particular department went to a retreat in the US. The Londoners and Canadians had to be flown in then there was a long bus trip to a house in upstate New York like something out of The Shining, and no other human habitation for miles.

    The first evening, we had some sort of an icebreaker that involved writing a word that described yourself on a piece of paper and then they got pulled out of a hat and you had to guess which total stranger out of 50 it applied to. Then there were speeches. Lots of speeches.

    The first night, all the junior staff who’d been dragged to this thing decided to actually ‘break the ice’ by hitting the bar. We possibly hit it rather too hard.

    The second morning, we got herded into the conference room where a super exuberant senior staffer put on “Let’s Get This Party Started” at ear splitting volume and made us all stand up and ‘dance’ at our desks, shouting at us to shake our booties until we were in ‘Party Mood’. I was not the only extremely hungover and resentful person who basically twitched like a galvanised corpse until this ended. They played the *whole three minutes* of the song while shouting, basically, “Dannce, monkeys, dance!” We then sat down to ‘get the party started’ and the boss told us that last night’s piss-up had been unacceptable and not to do it again and we weren’t in the fun party retreat to have fun.

    There were three full days of sessions and they did the Let’s Get This Party Started routine at the start of every morning *and every afternoon* session. I still twitch when I hear it. And they wondered why we drank.

    1. noncommittal pseudonym*

      “Dance, monkeys, dance”?!?!?

      Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

      1. Observer*

        Especially when that was followed by yelling at them for drinking too much and they are not supposed to be there for fun!

        SMH

        1. Katherine*

          Yeah I’d *almost* find it apt if they did it that ONCE as a punishment, but to do it SIX (?) times? No.

  34. UsedtobeYoung*

    This was a specific type of ice-breaker for a meeting that took place in early 2021, “what has been the worst thing about the pandemic for you so far?” asked in a quite light hearted tone. Clearly the facilitator had had a relatively easy time of it, because she was pretty naive to the possible answers to that question.
    Responses ranged from “playgrounds being closed to kids”, to “my wedding was postponed indefinitely”, to “my dad died”.

    1. Ama*

      It’s wild that people can be so stuck in their own experiences that they can’t conceive that an event that killed millions worldwide shouldn’t be part of a “fun” question.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah. That’s a terrible ice breaker in a way that a lot of the other terrible ones aren’t.

        I mean, yes, I personally turned out to relatively lucky. But when when something is killing 2-3k people every day, day after day, and it’s all over the news how do you not realize that just MAYBE someone in your group got really badly hit?!

        Every single explanation I can come up with is really ugly….

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      I would win none of the Worst Year Prizes for bad times in the pandemic, and I would have still been trauma dumping pretty badly if asked that at the wrong time.

      Holy WOW that’s a Living-In-A-Bubble question

    3. Can't Sit Still*

      I had a colleague who had lost 16 relatives in the pandemic by 2021. I literally cannot imagine asking that question, ever.

    4. MigraineMonth*

      And yet, however awful, that’s still more appropriate than asking a group “what’s the best thing about the pandemic for you so far?” which is something a LW complained about.

  35. SpaceySteph*

    As an introvert with some social anxiety, I loathe these exercises. I feel like as soon as they ask for something creative/interesting, all creative/interesting things fall out of my head.

    Yesterday I went to a training class that was “tell us your name in a way that I’ll remember it” which is kind of a cute idea because if you have a good memory jogger you will remember names and some people did have good ones that made them memorable, but for me as soon as they said that, all ability for me to come up with a way to remember my name fell out of my head (I’ve thought of like 5 ways since then, of course).

    In general I think the leader picks a topic for which THEY have a cool story, even if nobody else does. As an RA in college, our building did “tell us about a near death experience” presumably only so our boss could tell us she got struck by lightning one time.

    1. snailsharkk*

      “In general I think the leader picks a topic for which THEY have a cool story, even if nobody else does.”

      THIS x1000! Every time I hear a non-generic icebreaker I’m convinced it’s so the asker can share a story they’ve been wanting to tell.

    2. Madeleine Matilda*

      We do an ice breaker for staff meetings and have started sharing them in advance so people have time to think.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        I would really appreciate something like this. It also keeps people listening to the intros before them vs using that time to think of something to say. I’ll be suggesting this!

      2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        Does sharing them in advance ever great pressure for them to be really good?

  36. SGPB*

    At a recent all hands our boss asked us to say how we were feeling on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best day of your life. When anyone said less than 4, she would then ask them why in front of everyone. So everyone just said 4 after that.

    Another time the ice breaker was “how long is your commute” on our first day back in the office after 3 years. The resentment in the room was palpable.

    1. Green Tea*

      I feel like if I were facilitating a meeting the first day back in the office, I’m exactly the type of petty to choose a ‘how long is your commute?’ ice breaker. To remind leadership that not everyone lives a lovely 10 minute drive from the office, some of us commute 90 minutes on public transportation each way, and we are not, in fact, thrilled to be back like they are.

      But I get that icebreaker coming from leadership and not as a barb toward leadership hits differently.

    2. scared*

      I’d probably be the one to lie and say my mother had died just to demonstrate why this was an awful idea.

  37. Correlation is not causation*

    We all had to pick a button – each button was a different color and you had to answer the question for the color button you had – they were
    what is your favorite movie
    what is your favorite book
    describe your first kiss
    how old were you when you lost your virginity
    what color are your underwear today

    One woman got up and pulled down her pants a bit to show that her underwear had many colors, as it was a floral pattern. I didn’t need to know that.

    1. Zephy*

      Favorite movie – okay, fine, I’ve suddenly forgotten the title of every film ever made but I’m sure I can come up with something.

      Favorite book – actually easier, lets me segue into talking about my cats (named for book characters), arguably closer to the point of the exercise

      First kiss – uh…well, I do have a story but I don’t think it’s a great opener to, ostensibly, a roomful of strangers, some of whom are my bosses.

      Virginity – literally no one in this room needs to know that.

      Underwear – NO ONE IN THIS ROOM NEEDS TO KNOW THAT.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        I would personally much rather tell people the color of my underwear than *describe* my first kiss, although both of these are squarely in the Not at Work category.

    2. Emby*

      that started bland and quickly went super inappropriate. but i want to know what color was losing your virginity?

      1. Zephy*

        What color was your favorite movie kiss? How old were you when you lost your book of underwear?

        1. Just say no*

          I would argue the two that aren’t like the others are the movie and book questions.

    3. SpaceySteph*

      Wait… this was AT WORK? The first 2 are so normal and then it reaaally takes a turn after that…

    4. Old Woman in Purple*

      First kiss: presumably shortly after I was born, by my parents, but I don’t remember details.

    5. Always Bring Pickles to a Potluck*

      My first kiss was a new experience for me. I lost my virginity at the right age for me. I can’t remember what color underwear I’m wearing.

    6. Chirpy*

      Yikes. What a way to possibly out asexuals, aromantics, people with personal or religious reasons for celibacy, intimacy issues, or people with relationship or sexual trauma.

      1. AGD*

        YEP. I know someone who would have to choose between lying and saying “I was four.”

        The only answers that’ll fail to catch anyone’s attention are, like, numbers from sixteen through nineteen that are reported nonchalantly. Any other kind of answer will be fodder for office gossip and ammunition. I have one colleague who is so sneaky and manipulative that she’d probably write down all the details, wait 18 months, decide which person she hated most, and then start using the information against them.

    7. MikeM_inMD*

      Favorite movie: Casablanca.
      Favorite book: That varies by my mood.
      First kiss: I’m over 60, I don’t remember the details, and I don’t kiss and tell.
      Virginity: If I don’t *kiss* and tell, do you think I’ll tell you this?
      Underwear: The room was dark when I got dressed today.

  38. Enescudoh*

    I guess it’s not terrible because it had the desired effect – ie, it got out of the way the most embarrassing thing any of us could say, so there was no shame saying any curveball ideas for the rest of the day. But it felt horrible at the time, because I was in the middle of a major depressive episode and had said to a friend the evening before that I was having a really hard time experiencing joy or remembering what it was like to experience joy at the moment.

    And what did we get asked to do the next morning? Right down a list of every place that we’d experienced joy, every person that gave us joy, every moment in history we’d lived through, every piece of art, every person etc… and write and read out a poem about them all. I genuinely sat with my head in my hands for about 40 minutes.

    1. ferrina*

      40 minutes?! That’s not an icebreaker, that’s a substitute teacher who can’t find the TV. I love nonsense like this and I would be miserable.

  39. Goldenrod*

    I want to share a really great ice-breaker that my boss came up with! It was “tell us about a celebrity encounter you have had.”

    People had some amazing ones! One woman had a Hummer cut her off in traffic…and it was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who waved at her. Another person was in line at the airport with her husband, who was loudly wondering if it was Dave Matthews standing in front of them…he turned around and corrected them: “Tom Hanks.”

    I recommend this as a really GOOD ice breaker!

    1. Elle*

      Yes! That’s such a fun one. Another good one is giving out the same number of scrabble tiles to everyone. Then you’re asked to make up a word and definition of the word using the tiles given. You don’t learn much about the person but everyone seems to relax and have a good time.

        1. Elle*

          We wrote down the words and definitions on a white board but you don’t have to do that. It was funny seeing them written out.

    2. Hosta*

      I would love this. I got to watch Mr Rogers Neighborhood being filmed as a kid and got to meet him as a teenager, and would like to include that in every conversation I have because it still makes me feel warm and happy.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I have a somewhat amusing one that probably falls a bit flat with people who aren’t Irish, but anyway, the guy was Joe Lynch who was probably the star of Ireland’s most popular soap opera in the 1980s and 1990s and he was also sort of a singer, of old-fashioned Irish ballads. Anyway, when I was about 13, he was opening this shop down the road from my house and my dad and I went down and my dad said in front of him, “tell him what you think of his music” and he turned to me and said, “do you like my music?”

        He wasn’t joking, but it was still funny. The guy was an older man, in his 60s or 70s (he played the rascally granddad figure in the soap) and he was clearly so shocked that he was apparently more “down with the kids” than he’d realised.

    3. Jiminy cricket*

      I like this one, because even if it’s not Tom Hanks level, everybody’s got a story about the Goofy impersonator at Disneyland or their local city councilmember or something.

    4. Zephy*

      Oh, celebrity encounter is a good one! If you don’t have one, you probably know someone who does, the whole six degrees of separation thing.

      I would either tell the story of the time I got a hug from Ne-Yo, or one of my mom’s stories from when she was a hotel concierge in the 80s and met a bunch of famous folks.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Oh, I like the idea of extending it to “you or someone close to you”! So if you don’t have a celebrity encounter (or the celebrity was awful to you), you can still share something. (Probably wouldn’t hurt to clarify that it can absolutely be a minor celebrity or someone who’s only well known within a niche field, like the meteorologist from the evening news or the author of a knitting book, not just someone nationally/internationally recognizable.)

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        One that happened to me and what is steal-able is meeting someone at the eye doctor’s office. I met Grady Nutt at mine. (For those who don’t know, he was a Southern comedian)

        1. Not Totally Subclinical*

          When I was a kid, my dad had two cassette tapes of Grady Nutt routines that we’d listen to on long car trips. Flipping hilarious.

      3. Nebula*

        It also gives people who really straight up don’t want to participate an easy out without making things awkward. ‘Oh I don’t really have a story like that, but these are fun’ – great, move on to the next person.

        1. Zephy*

          Yeah. “Hi, I’m Zephy, I’m in the llama counting department. I’ve never met a celebrity but my dad swears up and down he saw Burt Reynolds in line at the DMV one time in 19xx.” And the game moves on.

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      I was once on the same airplane as Muhammed Ali. Or at least that was the rumor. I did not see him or have any interaction with him whatsoever. That’s the best I’ve got.

      1. Victoria, Please*

        I *think* I saw Cate Blanchett on the ramp to a freeway here in the greater LA area one time. I’m choosing to believe it was her with the elegant profile, blond hair, and gorgeous dark green BMW, anyway.

      2. Cedrus Libani*

        I was once on a plane with Tim Gunn, of Project Runway fame. It was late at night, the plane was very delayed, and the poor guy was visibly injured and looked exhausted and uncomfortable; I didn’t want to bother him, so I politely ignored him instead. Not much of a story, but at least it’s work appropriate?

    6. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      One weekend in Vegas I ran into Rod Stewart twice — once literally, like tripped over my feet and crashed straight into him in Caesar’s Palace, and then the next morning he was at the next table when I was eating brunch at Mon Ami Gabi with friends.

    7. EvilQueenRegina*

      Prince William. He was the year below me at university and I managed to walk past him in the street and not realise.

      1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        Ah! This reminds me that I had an older (by like 20 yrs) cousin who told me she was out clubbing in NYC one night in her youth, and shared a cab with Princess Diana. I, being a very un-worldly 10 at the time, immediately asked excitedly, “Was she wearing a crown?”
        After all the adults in the room stopped laughing at me, she told me, “No, she was wearing a miniskirt.”

    8. GCN*

      What do you answer when you’ve never had a celebrity encounter, and do not know or care enough about celebrities to notice them even if you did encounter one in the wild? I certainly hope “don’t have one and don’t give a eff” is acceptable!

      1. Despachito*

        That’s pretty much my personal stance too in terms of “traditional” celebrities but I’d feel we’d be a bit of killjoys to formulate it like that. I feel, especially after reading some of the horror stories here, for those who come up with an icebreaker that is not offensive or hurtful or wildly inappropriate. I’d go either with what was suggested above “I don’t remember any such story but yours are fun”, or try and think about someone who is not a “traditional” celebrity.

        I once met a very average-looking frail old man in a gallery and it turned out he had been a lifelong helper of the (quite famous) artist the gallery was dedicated to. And I (sadly) did not meet any of these but avidly read stories of those who have met some well-known local weirdos (such as a lady who used to swim in a river every day, and in winter would take an axe and make a hole in the ice to be able to indulge in her hobby).

    9. Thomas*

      It seems great until you get someone who’s “celebrity encounter” was being sexually assaulted by one.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        …really? I mean, people are going to mention that in this context? Sorry, this is giving “Not everyone can eat sandwiches!!!111” There’s a time and a place.

        1. The Shenanigans*

          No, it’s really not. It’s showing that icebreakers, in general, are not a good idea. A lot more people have these encounters than you seem to think. And if you don’t think people answer that way because they feel on the spot or pressured or triggered and just blurt something out, well, you must be new here.

    10. fort hiss*

      I’m afraid that most notable one to me is so deeply niche that it would out me as a huge weirdo if I told it to my coworkers–it was being at an anime con and realizing I was in an elevator with the then-current owner of 4chan.

    11. KiwiLib*

      my son hates ice breakers but says one of his lecturers used this one and it’s the only ice breaker he’s ever enjoyed. And people were creative – someone went to dinner at someone’s flat who had a poster of a famous person

    12. not a hippo*

      I’ve literally never had a celebrity encounter unless you count seeing a D-List HGTV guy shopping at the same craft store as me (& needing someone to point him out to me) but that is a fun, non personal ice breaker!

    13. Modesty Poncho*

      LOL if we’re sharing, when I met Alton Brown at a book signing I got to inform him that there are Alton Brown Facts online in the style of Chuck Norris facts. He was amused.

      I was also at a hotel for a Star Trek convention and saw George Takei in the hall. He smiled and said “Hi” and my friends and I all giggled madly. The night before at the cast talent show he sung Star Trekkin’.

  40. snailsharkk*

    I am ND and I hate icebreakers (I’m not sure if it’s an ND trait or not, but I think it may be so I’m including that detail). My boss is REALLY into them :(

    Every time I have to come up with something my mind goes completely blank. I cannot think of ANYTHING about myself (let alone a “fun fact” or my “favorite childhood memory” or even my “first job”… just empty head).

    I’ve started just making things up. Oh, my favorite childhood memory? A whale watching trip in Alaska. My first job? Butler. etc etc

    1. CR*

      +1 to my mind going completely bank. During frosh week our group leader had us pick a word to describe ourselves that starts with the same letter as our name. For the life of me I could not think of an adjective beginning with C. Finally I said “…Cat?”

      1. CV*

        I hate this one so much. Violent. Victorious. Viscous. Very sick of coming up with words that start with the same letter as my name.

          1. AGD*

            Same. All the negative ones are hilariously horrible and all the positive ones make me sound really conceited. Fortunately I have an out in the form of a funny factual descriptor (think “awake”), but still.

      2. Anonymous for Today*

        I panicked when we did this one in college (it was word + action) and I used… Annihilator. Honestly no idea where that came from, but probably because I’d recently seen the Terminator for the first time and the pose was iconic? I am cringing recalling this.

    2. Eater of Hotdish*

      It took me a hot minute to put together what ND means in this context. I was like “yup, people in North Dakota can be kind of reserved till you get to know them, this is why everybody just talks about the weather as an icebreaker”

      1. CowWhisperer*

        And corn futures. Can’t go wrong with a discussion of corn futures.

        I’m a Michigander raised in a city who married a dairy farmer and moved to a rural county. My husband took me to a dairy conference where the icebreaker was drawing a card and using the face and suit to find a dairy specific question to answer to the group.

        It’s a great icebreaker if you have been in dairy for more than a few months. I survived by admitting that the only three questions I knew were “What breed of cows do you have?” and “How many cows do you have?” along with a guess of “Don’t kick cow udders?” for keeping somatic cell numbers down in milk. That was far more hilarious to the real farmers than I had any right to hope for, lol.

    3. Good Enough For Government Work*

      I think it depends on what flavour of ND you have going on. My happily extroverted ADHD ass is quite happy to have the opportunity to talk about herself a bit. ;)

    4. Nightengale*

      I think it’s definitely a neurodivergent trait to often struggle with these things.

      1) being put on the spot – shutdown for many

      2) “favorite” – indecision anxiety, can’t just pick one

      3) we may not have mainstream interests in books, movies etc so may not have any idea what to say when asked to name a movie character

    5. Labracadabrador*

      I’m also ND and do the same mind-going-blank thing, so I sat down and came up with a set of palatable answers to common ice breakers and rehearsed them. (Not all are entirely truthful.)

      Favorite book, movie, TV show, song, animal, and color; two truths and a lie; fun fact about yourself; adjective that starts with the same letter as your name; joke for “tell me a joke” prompt — I have curated answers for all of these that are general and work-appropriate. Saves me from the “I’ve suddenly forgotten everything about myself, including my own name” issue.

      My rehearsed joke: What kind of dog can do magic tricks? A Labracadabrador Retriever.

      1. Toastermaster Greg*

        That’s my favourite joke because it’s also bilingual!
        What do you call a magical French dog? A Magi-chien!

  41. GBS*

    We were a newly formed team with a new manager. Most of us knew each other but there were a couple of new hires as well. This was our first team meeting, and we were asked to introduce ourselves, how long we’ve been with the company, and a little detail about ourselves. Most people offered very harmless things – one guy said he’s an Excel master, one person loves sending and receiving cards, things like that. Then we get to the new woman, who announced that when she meets people she judges them based on their shoes. Not the kind of ‘oh, those look ugly’ but the ‘this is a good/bad person’ way and that it sways her desire and ability to interact with them.

    Took many of us a long time to get past that she’d use such poor judgement for her very first impression, and as it turns out she really is just that superficial in pretty much all aspects.

    1. LovesDogsandCats*

      One of my previous managers, who was also the Director of the foundation that we worked in, told me that when she meets new people she associates them with dog breeds! Then proceeded to tell me that I reminded her of an Old English Sheepdog.

      Thanks? I had no idea what to do with that information.

        1. Quill*

          I am almost certain I am some variety of retriever: anxious and in need of more walks.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I’m definitely a Boston Terrier – big boogly eyes, large weird ears, dedicated to naps.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Huh! An icebreaker that produced actually useful information. That’s a first.

    3. Chauncy Gardener*

      We once had an icebreaker where the facilitator of the meeting said that the breed of dog we have is representative of who we are as people.
      I have pitbulls (who are terrifying looking but big goober heads in reality)
      Scared the crap out of everyone in the room since I am a very small woman and no one knew what to do with this stupid info

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Haha I had a rescue pittie and a rescue chihuahua. The pittie was gentle, sweet, cuddly, maternal, and completely laid-back. My chihuahua has to wear the Lecter mask at the vets and groomers.

      2. carcinization*

        Hahaha I have a Schipperke so I’m… little, fancy, and mischievous? I guess it’s fine.

      3. blue rose*

        Big sighs at the thinking that it’s people who are reflections of the dogs, and not dogs who are reflections of the people who raise/take care of them.

        The only pit bull in my (extended) family belonged to a woman long into her retirement years. All day long, my relative did “little old lady” activities, and coddled the dogs with slow-cooker chicken on the regular, and every time I would visit, I’d look at her dogs and think that they were such little old ladies, too (dogs happened to be girls). Especially when the pit bull got into her teen years, I thought the “little old lady” lifestyle really suited her.

        1. Quill*

          The family dog was a perfect encapsulation of anyone raised by my mom: loud and loves playing in the mud.

    4. Observer*

      Took many of us a long time to get past that she’d use such poor judgement for her very first impression, and as it turns out she really is just that superficial in pretty much all aspects.

      I doubt that I could get past it. And to be honest, I don’t think I would try because I think that there is no reason to move past it. As your second sentence shows, she was saying something really powerful about herself.

  42. ShanShan*

    “Describe your worst date” is one of those questions certain lucky straight men ask thinking they’re going to get cute stories instead of fear and trauma.

    See also: “describe your worst breakup.”

    1. Jiminy cricket*

      Oh, absolutely. Same with “first kiss.” Not all of us grew up in the movie My Girl. (Oh, wait, that had trauma in it, too.)

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Yeah, pretty much any question that could be answered by “it happened to me without my consent and violated my bodily autonomy” is a horrendous icebreaker.

    2. WorkingRachel*

      Seriously. I’ve only been dating for like a year and a half and my “worst date” was relatively benign, but it still involved the guy using a slur.

  43. Emby*

    My boss (federal govt in a health care-related office) opened a virtual meeting by saying we all seemed a little low-key, so how about we all go around and say something bringing us joy. This happened to be roughly 30 minutes after the Supreme Court struck down Roe, so I said “I have no joy right now.” The next coworker agreed with “Nope, no joy. None.” That killed it pretty quickly.

    1. Zephy*

      During my time with City Year we had a standup meeting every morning at about 6:30 AM, and we started every single one of them with “joys and ripples.” Some days, the most positive thing anyone could say was “I woke up this morning,” but even that – taking a moment to remember that hey, I’m alive and that’s not nothing – did serve to move the needle a little bit vis-a-vis the team’s overall mood and energy level. Half an hour after Roe was overturned was definitely not the time to deploy this particular game, though, that I agree with.

      1. JustaTech*

        My PEPS group (new parent support group) started our (virtual) meetings with “highs and lows”, which our facilitator was quick to say could be about parenting or not, and we could always pass if we didn’t feel up to sharing (she was a great facilitator).

        But that’s a group where you are there to ask for help with really hard things (and not so hard things), so it makes sense to share your low moments.
        At work? Hard no.

  44. Gondorff*

    Comparatively, this one’s not bad, but it’s still stuck with me all these years. We had to pass a toilet paper roll around the circle and tear off as many squares as we wanted to. After everyone had their pieces of toilet paper, we each had to share something no one else knew about us – but one thing for every square we had taken. (Perhaps a truly desperate attempt to get us to use less TP? Who knows.)

    After that, we had to divide into teams for our next ice breaker, but here’s where it got awkward. We had to divide up based on whether, when using toilet paper for its intended purpose, we folded the TP or crumpled the TP. Just a truly bizarre detail that I absolutely never needed to know about my coworkers.

    1. Elsewise*

      Oh my god I’ve had that one! But instead of “however much you want” it was “how much toilet paper you think you’d take if our team was going camping in the woods for two days.” We all made fun of the guy who thought he could get away with two squares until we realized he knew what was coming. One woman took nearly half the roll. By the end she was picking facts about herself like “the first letter of my name is S… the second letter of my name is A… the third letter of my name is not A, the third letter of my name is also not B…”

      1. Sister Michael*

        Church youth group, c. 2003… the instruction was “take as much as you need”. Naturally, one boy took about half the roll, just to be funny. Then we got to sit there for too long while he said, “I like pie. I like pumpkin pie. I like apple pie. I like blueberry pie…”
        Honestly, I think he was just listing fruits he could think of and, being a 14-year-old boy, was waaaay too committed to the bit. (If I recall, an adult stopped him eventually)

        1. Quill*

          Torn between “my 14 year old self would be sick of him already” and “you know what, the adults got what was coming to them.”

    2. Three Flowers*

      Sooooo…i once had to do this as the lead-in to an outdoor educator training about, erm, backcountry personal sanitation. It was as literally confessional as you would expect, and also shaming. Why? Because the professor (this was a graduate program, we all knew how to shit in the woods professionally) took one. square.

      I still don’t even know where to start with that one.

    3. Mill Miker*

      I shared a version of this up above, but for us, we had to take “As many sheets as we normally use”, whatever that means.

  45. BellyButton*

    I have also asked “what are you currently binge watching/reading/favorite podcast?” Mostly so I can get some good recommendations.

      1. BellyButton*

        It almost always sparks a lot of conversation. People asking questions, people commenting on their like/dislike of whatever. It is generic enough but still gets people talking.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        I don’t. :( I would have to make up a lie to this to avoid outing myself or disclosing things that are definitely not appropriate to talk about at work.

        1. Golden Turnip*

          Say that you read Ask A Manager! It’s appropriate to talk about at work, and doesn’t require outing yourself in any way :-)

          1. BellyButton*

            You can be even more generic “I like to read leadership/management advice columns”

          2. Jiminy cricket*

            The beauty of this is that you don’t have to reveal anything at all about yourself. Be the fifth person to recommend Succession. Name the one SFW book you read five years ago. Make a joke and recommend the thickest, driest technical manual in your field.

        2. Lisa Simpson*

          You haven’t read, watched, or listened to *anything* that’s appropriate for work discussion in the past year or so?

          1. Web Crawler*

            I’m not OP, but let’s see. I only watch kids cartoons. I’ve been reading non-fiction about autism, mental health, and polyamory. I’ve only been reading steamy romance novels for fiction. I listen to obscure queer bands (and have a history of being made fun of for this, so it’s not info that I want to volunteer). I haven’t seen a movie in years, and I can’t do podcasts.

            Unlike a lot of my ND friends, I have no trouble lying, so this question doesn’t actively bother me. But if I felt like answering truthfully, there’s no media that I’ve consumed recently that I want to share with my conservative financial industry colleagues.

            1. CowWhisperer*

              It’s amazing how answers land in different fields. I work in pre-school special education and saying “I’ve been reading up on autism and mental health” would be viewed as laudable!

            2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

              I’d probably try and make it generic, rather than lying.

              “I’ve been reading mostly health stuff.”

              “I’ve been reading lots of health and psychology.”

              “I’ve been listening to folk punk/lo fi rock/rock music/etc.”

  46. TCO*

    At a work retreat, someone used the icebreaker “tell us about your childhood pet.” What (inevitably) followed was a lot of sad stories about dead pets. Even those that weren’t meant to be sad (“My dog Sally and I were best friends, and we loved going swimming together”) usually ended with something like “but she died when I was in high school.”

    Even the organizer admitted that this turned out to be a surprisingly sad icebreaker that he would never use again. At least we were all able to laugh about how badly it turned out.

    1. Zephy*

      Why would you ask adults about their childhood pets and then be surprised that all of the animals in question are now deceased?? They don’t live THAT long (much as we wish they could)!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I can imagine the organizer was expecting all answers along the lines of “My dog Sally and I were best friends, and we loved going swimming together” and people leaving the “she’s dead now” unmentioned. A tricky thing I have noticed with icebreakers is that people tend to match the people who went before them, so it only takes one person adding on “but she died when I was in high school” to the end of their benign pet story for everyone else who comes after to follow the format of “positive memory + how old I was when the pet died.”

        I don’t think the organizer expected people’s childhood pets to still be alive, I think he expected no one would share “Fido had cancer” and “I didn’t get to say good-bye to my cat Tangerina because I was away at college.”

        1. Dark Macadamia*

          Yeah, I think it’s weird and not at all inevitable that it would take this turn! I guess it’s similar to the one above where the prompt is a boring detail like eating cereal and some people still bring up something traumatic and personal.

    2. bitter raisins*

      Woww. Though I’m not surprised. It’s hard for me to talk about my childhood dog because while her time with us was the best, her passing was incredibly traumatic so I might bitterly add that in depending on how grumpy I was feeling that day.

  47. lurkyloo*

    As a facilitator, I’ve used ice-breakers every time I’ve opened a session, some (obviously) to better reception than others.
    For one session, my (high-energy) co-facilitator said they wanted to open the session with a new ice-breaker they’d found. I knew they’d facilitated often and knew roughly the right things to do…until apparently they lost their mind?
    They played music and insisted that each attendee do a short dance! And that the NEXT person do that dance and a bit of their own until the last person did everyone’s dance?! Aw HELL no!
    Cue the embarrassed facilitator (me) interrupting and going ‘Of COURSE they’re joking! Let’s do *insert innocuous intros ice-breaker here* instead’. And dealing with a highly insulted co-facilitator at the break. Eye-roll

    1. Ama*

      Did your co-facilitator explain why they thought that would be a good idea? Just because we rarely get insight into why people come up with these.

      1. lurkyloo*

        Just that ‘it’s so fuuuuun! And would give everyone ENERGYYYYYY’. Even after I reminded them of, y’know, physical and mental and emotional limitations, they doubled down that dancing makes everyone feel better. ??
        They seemed to have had a complete disconnect from the usual, relatively manageable, person I dealt with. And it didn’t get better after that, so I can only speculate that something had happened in their personal life to make them feel that this was necessary. No idea but I stopped working with and scheduling them for the sessions.

        1. scared*

          Dancing makes everyone feel better. As long as “everyone” doesn’t include anyone with disabilities, chronic pain, etc etc

        2. Observer*

          No idea but I stopped working with and scheduling them for the sessions.

          It sounds like you did the only thing you could. I’m glad you had that option.

      2. Not like a regular teacher*

        This can be a genuinely useful exercise for a group of dancers and choreographers, but for a normal job? Why?!?!

    2. SQR*

      I also find these types of ice breakers to be unfair! The first few people only have to remember/repeat a few things (and the first people doesn’t have to do anything), while the last person is stuck with trying to remember a whole list of things to do/repeat.

    3. Observer*

      until apparently they lost their mind?

      Seriously! Did you ever find out what made them think that this is remotely appropriate?

      Cue the embarrassed facilitator (me) interrupting and going ‘Of COURSE they’re joking! Let’s do *insert innocuous intros ice-breaker here* instead’.

      I give you a TON of credit for being able to keep your cool.

  48. Problem!*

    I had a manager who would announce at the beginning of each meeting that he’d pick someone at random at the end to tell everyone a joke.

    This is a group of very introverted socially anxious engineers so no one paid attention to the meeting because they were in a blind panic trying to remember a joke in case they were selected as the victim at the end.

    1. nm*

      My mothers office did a version of this but the person chosen at the end had to start the *next* meeting with a joke. So the more reserved members of the group would mostly just google a list of jokes and pick something 5 min before the next meeting.

  49. ThisIsTheWay98*

    My former department head started a meeting with a 10 minute “inspirational” video about a man running marathons with his disabled son. Apart from the patronizing/ableist tone of the video, it also went into detail about the birth injury that caused the son’s disability. There were multiple people in the department who were pregnant, had experienced premature birth or pregnancy loss, or were going through fertility treatment (including me). He showed the video with the lights off which somehow made it worse. When the lights came up it was clear that several people had been crying. Then he asked us to go around and say a word or phrase about how the video “touched” us. No one wanted to start. We sat in awkward silence with the sound of sniffling until one woman abruptly existed herself and bolted out of the room. It was several years ago but I still remember how triggered and angry I felt!

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Oh man. Screw that guy. I would have been the loudmouth telling him in front of everyone how inappropriate that was.

    2. JustaTech*

      “My word is fury. I am furious at you for showing such an emotionally charged video that is not relevant to our work.”

      I hate hate hate having my emotions blatantly manipulated (as the best of those heart-string-pulling documentaries do), and my response is to become incredibly pissed off at the person/ film that is manipulating me. It’s a weird response, but I haven’t been able to change it. I do not appreciate someone making me cry.

    3. Observer*

      Honestly, if I were close enough to any of the relevant plugs, I think I would have pulled the plug.

      I’ve been in two situations where I actually did something like that (pulling the plug.) Neither was quite like this, but similar enough that I know that this is a realistic possibility.

      1. Quill*

        Especially in the dark. Oops, I tripped! Also I stepped on the prong. Better get Health and Safety in here.

  50. Unidentifiably Anonymous*

    I hate icebreakers. The worst one was when we had to go around and say about our first kiss? In a work context? It was so odd.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Oh man. Ignoring the obvious trauma responses (I cry when I think of my first kiss, and not in a good way) what the actual heck are people supposed to do with that information once they have it about each other.

    2. CSRoadWarrior*

      That is also very intruding. Your first kiss? That is none of an employer’s business. It is a very private topic.

      Personally, I would have been very embarrassed. It is not like anyone can say “none of your business” to an employer either.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        You absolutely can and should when they’re being this wildly inappropriate. If you really think you’ll lose your job, you can fake a bathroom emergency. But in no situation am I disclosing my sexual assault history to my employer just because they think their awful icebreaker is harmless for everyone in the room.

    3. fanciestcat*

      Several people in thread have mentioned this one now and it’s just, wow. Younger me probably would have made up a story and then cried later. Current me would look the organizer dead in the eyes and say, “My first kiss was non-consensual. I dealt with the ramifications for years. Thanks for asking.”

      1. Observer*

        Yeah. I just am boggled by the idea that this happens enough that it’s come up more than once in this corner of the internet. INSANITY.

  51. JustMe*

    My husband’s old job would always have new employees introduce themselves and give a brief introduction at their first all-staff meeting. Very normal, boring stuff–not what you would really call an icebreaker at all. One time, though, a new hire stood up, said, “Someone gimme a beat!” and proceeded to freestyle rap about himself, his background, and how excited he was to work at the company. I should note that this was a white guy working at a startup in Portland, Oregon. Everyone sitting around the table was…uncomfortable, but I guess the rap wasn’t bad, and everyone just chalked it up to the new hire being a little odd but excited.

    After the meeting, the guy proceeded to take a three hour lunch to go get drunk at a strip club, where he treated all his friends to drinks to celebrate getting a new job. When someone else at the company asked where he’d been, he explained he thought he could take a three-hour lunch because, “This is just syllabus week.” He did not make it past his 90 day probationary period.

    1. Bread Crimes*

      If that’s what “syllabus week” means to him, I feel sorry for every single instructor he had in college.

      1. Quill*

        He got a week for syllabuses? I was in the field picking up rocks first day of my freshman intro-to-my-major courses.

    2. Not that other person you didn't like*

      I feel like I might have worked with this guy at some point

  52. Babyfaced Crone*

    I generally haaaaate these exercises but led my fair share of them while managing an all-remote team during the pandemic. The one that proved most popular was “what’s the best or weirdest thing you’ve bought online during COVID?” It was something everyone could claim experience with and prompted a lot of interesting or hilarious stories (and links in the chat), and keeping it focused on consumer behavior meant it felt relatively less likely to get into the realm of the ultra-personal during what was otherwise a pretty traumatic time.

  53. pally*

    A coworker’s farewell luncheon

    After everyone settled in to eat, the president of the company stood up and started talking about how much we were all going to miss Christine. Everyone nodded; she hadn’t been with the company for long (a year) but she was liked.

    He said she could still change her mind; everyone chuckled.

    He wished her well; everyone smiled. A few clapped.

    Then he launched into: Let’s all relate our most embarrassing stories about Christine!

    The room went silent.

    1. LovesDogsandCats*

      I had a similar mortifying one a number of years ago.

      The Director of our Foundation was retiring and a dinner in a fancy restaurant was arranged for her goodbye meal. We were a small team that was severely under resourced and no one liked the Director much as she didn’t do much in her job and it was left to a lot of us younger (mid-20s) employees to get the actual work done.

      Once the main course was over, a manager stood up and thanked the Director for her work and that we were sad to see her go, blah blah blah.

      The Director then cut off this manager and said that she would like to go around the room and ask everyone what their favourite thing was about her and what we would miss most about her now that she is leaving.

      Four people practically sprinted to the toilet to avoid saying anything sarcastic or incriminating!

  54. April*

    Ok, not a work meeting, but one time in a college extracurricular group meeting, I was asked to share my biggest regret as an icebreaker.

    1. Paris Geller*

      In my head I would have been thinking “my biggest regret is any decision that led me to sitting in this chair being asked what my biggest regret is.”

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      Ha! I read this as “my biggest regret as an icebreaker.” As in, as an icebreaker, which activity to break the ice was your biggest regret.

      I actually think that one WOULD be a great icebreaker!

  55. Era*

    I think nobody else in the room considered this one a failure, but the icebreaker that went wrong for me quickest was “Tell me about your favorite conspiracy theory!”

    There were like five total people and we still uncritically hit racist theories (“Ancient aliens — like how did they build the pyramids?”, anti-intellectual (“moon landing was faked! a classic!”) and a special category I call ‘that’s not a conspiracy, that’s the death of a child’ (murder of JonBenet Ramsey). Because it was framed as “favorite” it was very unclear whether people meant “this is fascinating because it’s stupid” or “this feels the most plausible to me”. It was my first impression of everyone there and I was just as glad I was leaving and it was also my last.

    1. Meep*

      I love it because the chaos of it all. Then again, my favorite conspiracy is Beyonce faking her pregnancy with Blue Ivy. Because if she did, it is a sad commentary on women needing to hide surrogacy. And if she didn’t, taking up the entire maternity ward to give birth is so “Queen Bey”.

    2. General Izable*

      I had this question asked on a bachelorette weekend! I was shocked to find out the bride’s childhood friend was a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and could not look at her the same after the fact.

      1. BubbleTea*

        At summer camp, my friend was running a workshop and asked everyone to say their name and their hobby. One girl said her hobby was fox hunting. Apparently you could almost hear the record scratch and the jaws dropping.

    3. Blink*

      I’ve done a version of this which was: tell me a conspiracy that only you believe OR invent a new one for us now.
      Mine was that my younger brother is unnaturally lucky (one time he found $50 on the pavement even though I was right there!! and he didn’t have to share it!!) and that he stole my share of “luck”.

    4. Anon anon*

      Ah. I would ruin that one, I’m afraid. It’s a big bugbear of mine that basically all conspiracy theories are either just rethemes of or devolve into The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Which is super antisemitic and long debunked.

    5. not a hippo*

      Conspiracy theories are awful but I am partial to the one that mesas are really the remains of gigantic trees. It’s relatively harmless but also wtf????

    6. Random Dice*

      I’m honestly not sure how you didn’t expect that a conspiracy theory share would go wrong. This was 1,000% on you.

      I’m also befuddled that you would then judge people for which conspiracy theory they chose. There aren’t exactly GOOD or sane conspiracy theories out there.

  56. The Birthday Game*

    Stop playing the famous birthday game! My CEO and some department managers love the birthday game: picking three team members and googling their birthday to see if they share a birthday with a famous person. I share a birthday with Harvey Weinstein and two members of the Third Reich. That made things awkward FAST.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I share a birthday with Tim Allen, the Olsen twins, and Rivers Cuomo. I’m not quite sure how this is supposed to be at all interesting. What a bizarre concept for an icebreaker.

    2. Don'tbeadork*

      I don’t share a birthday with ANYONE! It’s MY day, dammit!

      But I was born on the same day as lots of other folks. Jimmy Carter, Julie Andrews, Rod Carew…

    3. Can't Sit Still*

      Some terrible people were born on my birthday and some truly horrific things have happened on my birthday, just in recent memory. It’s a particularly murder-y day, I guess.

    4. AlwhoisThatAl*

      Or Deaths – Julius Caesars Death, immortalised by Shakespeare as the Ides of March

    5. EvilQueenRegina*

      At my old job, someone was sent some link about who you shared birthdays with and ended up starting a conversation in the office about it. I got Mother Teresa, and apparently also some porn star (whose name now escapes me). I also share with Macaulay Culkin, so he’s my go-to if the subject does come up again.

  57. t-vex*

    I tried to do an icebreaker where I passed out pennies and asked everyone to say something interesting that happened to them or their organization that year. Except I didn’t check, and it turned out all the pennies were from 2020, so there wasn’t exactly a lot of variety in the responses.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Sounds like someone went to the bank for a roll of pennies and ended up with a brand new roll.

        1. Meep*

          The only way that works is if it was in 2020. And there was a huge change shortage then.

          1. Peanut Hamper*

            Yeah, the mint was still cranking out coinage though. That’s not the reason there was a change shortage.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Trivia question, in case you need one. For the pennies that have Lincoln’s picture on one side and the memorial on the other. Did you know that you can see Lincoln on both sides. His statue can be seen through the pillars.

  58. keyw*

    At the most toxic place I ever worked, we had a speaker for a staff retreat following an extensive renovation of our building. This speaker’s icebreaker was that we had to say our name, and then share something we didn’t like about the renovations. She presented it like it was some kind of revolutionary, I’m-Not-Like-Other-Speakers activity. Except that the Executive Director was in the room, and she was absolutely volatile. The first few people awkwardly skirted around the question. Then one staffer said something like “I love the renovations. I guess if anything, I would like to know if security measures have been updated. I would be grateful for more communication on security.” The absolutely ED flipped out, in front of everyone. The stunned speaker called a short break (this was only like 10 minutes in). The ED ordered the staffer (who was barely holding back tears) to her office and chewed her out even more. You can imagine how the rest of the session went.

    1. Heh?*

      What?!? How did *that* set off the ED?

      … Though I suppose it wasn’t the poor staffer’s answer, it was the speaker’s question and the staffer was the poor unfortunate soul who happened to be the wrong spot in the line. =(

  59. KToo*

    We are at some kind of company gathering thing – I don’t even remember what the purpose was. But the facilitator had us all pair off and we were supposed to turn our back to each other, change one thing about our appearance (throw your tie over your shoulder, move something from one pocket to another, take off a ring, etc…) and then face each other and figure out the difference. And we were supposed to do it repeatedly, changing something different each time. The point was to show how small changes may not be noticed but when small changes accumulate they add up to a big difference.

    The problem for me? I was wearing a blouse, skirt, knee high boots (that I couldn’t remove without sitting) and that’s it. No jewelry, no glasses, no scarf, no watch, no pockets (of course) – not a single thing that could be changed in a few seconds. Whereas the men had suit jackets, ties, things in pockets, etc… I was ‘spoken to’ about not being an active participant, like, what do you want me to do? Strip naked??

    1. Nea*

      Ugh, that one’s awful! No, I’m not going to take off my glasses, I can’t see. No, I’m not going to switch my cane to my other hand, that’s not how canes work. And no, I’m not taking off my sentimentally valuable ring and risk losing it for your demonstration!

    2. Katherine*

      I think I changed between tucking/not tucking my hair behind my ears. But telling someone off for not being an active participant is awful.

  60. TheActualA*

    This is pretty low-key compared to some of the examples but people hated it. The week I started, my old boss thought it would be a fun icebreaker idea if we shared some information about how we got our first names. She was approaching it with this bright-eyed optimism that our parents choosing our names was a happy and thoughtful process and that we would have grown up hearing cozy stories about it.

    Most of the team was horrified by the question. Everyone except for me was not originally from the US so some folks have a name from their culture and an “American” name and a LOT of feelings about that or their parents had picked a name that they hated or caused them to question their judgment. Boss just kept pushing and hoping the next person would have a happy story but literally no one did.

    I’m queer and grew up fundie so I don’t have a relationship with my parents and I legally changed my first name years ago so this wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have either.

    1. scared*

      That last part is exactly what I was thinking of — you’re going to have any trans* people in the room trying to figure out how to avoid outing themselves.

    2. keyw*

      This is a great example of why I think icebreakers should be generally avoided. If the purpose is to make people more comfortable, there is always a risk that it’ll make at least a few people *un*comfortable, or in this case, even bring up trauma! Especially something like this, asking people to dredge up things from their personal lives. Uhg.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      We had to do this exercise as part of the required training before becoming foster/pre-adoptive parents in my state. The point of the exercise was to remind everyone that not everyone even knows the story of how their parents chose their name, or, as in your case, not everyone wants to be reminded of or share the story. We did this in a small group setting, the trainers were all social workers, and absolutely no one was required to share (ever, in that class; it was a great class). So, yeah, BAAAAAAAAAD icebreaker for sure.

    4. JustaTech*

      I love my name but I forget that the story behind it comes across weird to a lot of people (I was named for my great aunt who died of polio as a teenager).
      If someone asked my kid it would be “my parents wrote a computer program to help them sift through names”. (Which is true. I had like 10 generations of family names to dig through and I didn’t like any of them. So we just picked one.)

  61. me*

    The last one is really funny to me because when I was in high school, I worked at a “parents night out” where parents could drop off their kids and we’d do group activities with them. My group was the 3-year-old group, and for one of our activities, my coworker asked the kiddos, “did you ever fall down and get a booboo?” and that was what we discussed – also for 30 minutes, and were shown the places where scrapes used to be – until it was time to go in the bounce house.

    1. Jiminy cricket*

      OMG. Icebreakers for 3-year-olds. Brilliant. I bet you could have gotten another 30 minutes out of it.

    2. negligent apparitions*

      We cringe every time our pastor asks the kids a question like this during children’s message. It becomes the longest part of the service because she refuses to stop the responses!

  62. Kay Zee*

    I’m sure our HR person will never again use “tell the group something fun you did this weekend” the way she did the Monday after my Father-in-law died. Honestly I wasn’t distraught – I was at work, after all, since the funeral wasn’t till later in the week. But I do hate ice breakers, so I went for it.

    She’s lucky I didn’t also mention that I had to take care of my husband after general anesthesia for dental surgery.

  63. Anna Badger*

    at my old org, most teams did a few design sprints or big workshops a year, but as a subject matter expert I was in nearly all of those workshops across the whole company. the standard icebreaker was “write an unexpected fact about you and we’ll guess which fact belongs to which person”, and by year 4 of this job I had to resort to saying “I am OUT of unexpected facts, you have bled me dry, there are zero unexpected things left about me that at least one person on this call has not heard twice.”

    the group correctly guessed it was me.

    and a good ice breaker as a little palate cleanser: we had some external folks run a DEI workshop, and they got us to go round and optionally share anything we wanted the group to know before we got started. people shared extremely useful context like “I was up half the night with a sick child so I might struggle to focus” and “I have rosacea, so if I am flushed please do not assume I am upset or embarrassed” and “I’m very aware that some people here are in my reporting line and I’m not sure how best to make them comfortable in this space.”

    1. BubbleTea*

      I was at a DEI workshop recently and I think they were trying to do this. I didn’t really understand the question though (it’s only reading this comment that I’ve realised that might have been the goal) because they asked us “what are you bringing to the room?” Fortunately we were meant to submit our answers via our phones to be added to a word cloud, so I just didn’t engage, and eventually left early. I found it ironic that a workshop on inclusion had failed so utterly to be inclusive of anyone not familiar with what was evidently field jargon (they kept using other terms that I sort of vaguely got from context but didn’t really understand).

      1. Observer*

        I found it ironic that a workshop on inclusion had failed so utterly to be inclusive of anyone not familiar with what was evidently field jargon (they kept using other terms that I sort of vaguely got from context but didn’t really understand).

        Ironic, but probably the most effective thing they could have done. It’s interesting how people’s perspectives change when they bump into something like it themselves.

      2. Anna Badger*

        I think it helped that the facilitators went first, so by the time the first participant spoke they had two concrete examples of the sorts of thing they might want to share

      3. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I just had a very similar question on a getting to know you form for a course I’m starting Tuesday. I was befuddled. It’s the first class of a larger program and I have no idea what the format is going to be. How on earth am I supposed to know what gifts I’m bringing to the course if I don’t know what the norms are. (I guess I didn’t understand the question either).

  64. Guacamole Bob*

    This thread is making me feel better about how boring the icebreakers I choose are. I usually go with my industry’s equivalent of asking the staff at the central office of the library system to name their favorite library branch. Work adjacent if not directly related, easy to make your answer pretty impersonal if you want, but does get people talking to each other a little as human beings.

    It feels bland, but seeing all these comments about the alternatives, erring on the side of bland seems like less of a flaw.

    1. Watry*

      As someone who has trouble even with the lighter questions, THANK YOU. I’d rather the icebreaker be a little bland and boring than have to explain again that my medical problems mean I don’t have an answer to your question and any lie would be extremely obvious.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      The other thing that reading AAM has prompted me to do is try to remember to make my language more generic for these kinds of things. So instead of asking for favorite library branch, I’d try to remember to ask people to name something you like about one of the branches of our library system.

      It doesn’t have to be the first library branch you visited where your nanny took you after your dad abandoned your family, or your favorite because you and your partner got up to some secret hanky panky in the back corner of the reference section and you can’t talk about it without blushing, or the one where you cried during story time and were embarrassed to go back for years afterward, or the one where you got the phone call that your sister had cancer. Just pick one that you have a sentence or two to say something about that might be moderately interesting to your colleagues, and that’s fine. You like the sculpture at one or have fond memories of taking your kid to another or there was some sort of cool author event at a third? Great.

      So many people here have shared that they have terrible answers when asked about their first/best/worst/favorite/least favorite of even seemingly innocuous things. I think the permission to share whatever answer feels comfortable should always be implicit, but it never hurts for the organizer to make it more explicit.