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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

How to Fix the "Say Something Nice" Icebreaker

Here’s an exercise that lets you connect to others, build excellence in a group, and put a smile on people’s faces.

The normal way, asked in the training room or dinner table: “Say something nice about another person.”

Here’s a better way:

“Describe another person’s behavior that made a positive difference, and what effect it had on you and the group.”

The difference is in pointing out a specific visible behavior rather than an abstract concept.

This works better because the question rewards behavior, not traits. It’s easier to move from hearing the compliment to doing more of whatever it is because the receiver (and others who are listening) don’t have to interpret from the abstract to a specific behavior. It’s also easier to show how that specific action contributed to the success of the group – the connection between the behavior and a vision.

Asking the question this way shows the connection between the behavior and the impact. This reinforces that our behaviors are what create relationships, and empowers us to change our behavior when we don’t like the group dynamics.

Finally, this phrasing avoids generalizations that might disguise behaviors that don’t contribute. With the original prompt, we feel pressure to make a grand statement, but no person is ever entirely one thing – positive or negative. Recognizing that we can contribute and also at times act in ways counter to the group’s interest allows us to see the difference in a single person, and to focus on change rather than on a summarized and general state of being.

This is something you can use in your family at the dinner table, in a small group, at work in a standup or meeting. It’s also something that you can do at the end of the day for yourself.

What behavior did you do today that was truly excellent, no matter how small?

(If you searched for this icebreaker idea, you're trying to make a group better. That means you are a leader. Want more about learning using the functional approach to leadership? Check out this post on deliberate learning.)

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