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Posted by on Apr 24, 2012

What Should I Know About You?

As an HR Development professional, I get the opportunity to meet a variety of people in a variety of settings. My work has taken me to almost every state in the US, as well as a handful of countries in Western Europe. These opportunities always present me with experiences that I learn from on many levels, not the least of which is how people view themselves, how they introduce themselves to others, and how much they share.

One of my recent favorite ice breakers (yes, I hear the collective groan out in the blogosphere), is to have participants introduce themselves by using a word or phrase that begins with each letter of their name.

For example, for “Scott,” I would say something like, “My name is Scott. ‘S’ represents that I’m from the South, Alabama specifically; ‘C’ stands for the fact that I’m a huge fan of college football, especially the Auburn Tigers; ‘O’ means that I enjoy outdoor activities; ‘T’ means that I’m love live theatre, and have performed in numerous productions over my life; and the other ‘T’ means that I value the time that we’re going to spend together for the next few days.” That pretty much sums up a lot of information about me and my interests.

While this ice breaker seems quite simple on the surface, what I find really interesting is what people choose to reveal about themselves. For many, the organization’s culture dictates the amount of personal information that people share. In a low trust environment, participants are typically very guarded. They’re answers are brief, to the point, and concise. They’re choosing to protect themselves by not revealing a lot about themselves. Again, low trust, or organizational change, leads people to be self-protective.

In high trust environments, however, people are much more open. They share stories rather a descriptive word or phrase. They share experiences, and somehow find a way to integrate the letter into part of the experience. Sometimes, they just say what they want to say, and beg for forgiveness for “breaking the rules.” I totally welcome that.

I also find that the first two or three people who volunteer to introduce themselves really set the tone for the rest of the group. If the pioneers are very open, most others will follow. If the pioneers are guarded, that behavior follows as well.

The purpose of the ice breaker is to help people begin to see how connected we all really are. We may look different, have different experiences, have grown up differently, and have had different life experiences. However, we all do have something that connects us. We’re all people who are on a path…and for a few short hours, we share that path together.

So… At the end of the day, how would you answer this question? What should I know about you?

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