Ice Breaker Questions: Work-Appropriate Whimsy



Woman in the workplace. We all break the ice in our own way. She uses an ax.

My little cohort at work does something in it’s weekly check-in. We end each meeting reviewing everyone’s answers to the question of that particular week. The questions vary from simple (“what do you like about Spring?”), to pointed (“Do you love or hate the dentist? Here’s why I love the dentist…”), to far-fetched (“Where do you go in your time machine that you won in a contest, the natural way to acquire time machines?”), but it’s a brief moment of levity each week to catch a glimpse of people’s lives. And it is shockingly contentious.

You may be more familiar with QotW’s more well-known cousin, the ice breaker, a question you use to open up a meeting or conversation to get people talking. To break the ice.

We used to call them ice breaker questions too, until people complained about how much time we were spending on them, or flat out, not liking them very much, and we moved them to the end of the meeting. People could leave if they didn’t want to participate, or if we had other topics to get through and we ran out of time, we would be comfortable walking away without discovering our coworkers’ outlook on baby animals, and which one was their favorite.

Correct answer: Elephants.

I’ve also received complaints about not spending enough time on these questions. Because other people like them, and “can’t we give them more time”? Because terrible people are terrible.

I was asked early on in my tenure to come up with questions for the questions of the week, the type of ownership you grant someone young who can’t yet identify the last person was just trying to get rid of it.

Yes, it’s contentious, but it’s also surprisingly hard. You can google, “ice breaker questions for work,” but, no offense, internet, the results are pretty lame.

Ketchup or mustard?

Spring or summer?

What’s your favorite number?

How are you?

Having gone through this ritual, looking for question of the week inspiration, finding none, and writing my own, I decided it was time to put some of my favorites out there for the poor souls responsible for their coworker’s whimsy.

What’s currently in your trunk?

I love hearing the answers to this question from a bunch of Midwesterners. The answers always include some combination of the following: an ice scraper, an emergency kit, kitty litter, blankets.

Sensible things.

My answer: two tomato cages, a bag of crazy straws, a collection of plaid scarves, mysteriously, 3 ice scrapers, a classroom guide from my job training three and a half years ago, and an inappropriate number of old Starbucks cups.

And also, naturally, junk.

What’s your most recent first world problem?

My watermelon was too splashy! I kept trying to cut into it, and it kept splashing me! Don’t fight me, watermelon! Just let me eat you!

What’s the theme song for your future talk show?

Option 1: Me mumble singing “We Didn’t Start the Fire” while I clap and sidestep in front of a green screen.

Option 2: “Ride of the Valkyries” while I ride a bike by a lake. The bicycle will have a basket containing daisies, one dog, and a pool noodle for ad-hoc jousting. If you slow the footage down, you’ll be able to see me frantically whispering, “don’t hit that child or that child. WHY IS THERE ANOTHER CHILD!” I’m only medium good at bikes, guys.

Option 3: Ave Maria.

You have an intern. What’s the first thing you make them do?

My gut says, “make them get me a burrito.” But when I start my Uber for burritos business, which naturally comes after my Uber for cheese business, using my intern for burrito-fetching would be redundant.

I’d make them pick out all the cherry flavored Starbursts while giving me hair-oriented compliments. I’d pay them in respect and eye-contact.


What is your war cry?



What’s the story of your weirdest scar?

There’s a faint line on my arm from when I tried and failed to construct an elaborate pulley-system to transport my laptop, books, water, and adulthood into my lofted bed. Considering I am not a pulley scientist, it didn’t go well, and the rope got my arm in the process. I was 25.

Or I could tell the story of my chicken pox scars.

One time, I got chicken pox.

You just won a time machine in a contest! Where do you go?

I have to pick carefully because I’m pretty sure if I went back to any time before the 19th century, I would certainly be tried as a witch.

I’d be down for the Renaissance. Or the French Court under Louis XIV. Or the English court under Elizabeth I. I’m a general court fan.

What book do you view as required reading?

Anything by George Saunders

What fictional character do you relate to the most?

Ursula from The Little Mermaid, but maybe, like, Ursula having a really great day. A day where her hair is responding well to the climate, and she remembered to take the lunches she made to work. And someone remembered to refill the coffee pot in the break room.

Yeah, Ursula and I are the same.

The Queen of England is coming to dinner. What do you cook?

It’s not flashy, but considering the Queen will be eating at a rickety Ikea table from 2005, especially precarious given the shelf life of Ikea furniture is 37 minutes, I’d turn to my “old faithful” recipes, Thomas Keller’s roast chicken and a lovely panzanella.

If the Queen and I are having “real talk” presumably about our favorite Game of Thrones characters, I’d serve a bowl of cheese curds, Canada Dry ginger ale, and pie. We’d both be wearing comfy pants. That’s an important point.

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