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Family Game Night; Don't Break the Ice

This summer, I’ve been talking about a variety of topics and using some of our favorite games as a jumping off point. To make things more fun, if you have family game night, post a picture and tag me. For every picture, your family will be entered in a drawing for a “family game night” themed basket. Next week is my last game, so we’ll be doing a drawing on Friday, August 11. You get two entries if you’re playing one of the games I’ve written about this summer. Be sure to check out Ticket to Ride, Rack-O, Aggravation, and Trivial Pursuit.

This week’s game is not a new one. “Don’t Break the Ice” has been entertaining families since 1968. It’s sort of the toddler version of Jenga in that you have to try to release the loose ice cubes without the rest of them falling out. We haven’t played this game in a while, but when my kids were small, it was an absolute favorite. They would laugh so hard when the ice finally broke. The only thing I didn’t like about this game was how cheap the box is. Come on Milton Bradley. You can do better. Maybe spend another cent or two to use cardboard that’s more than a one-time use. I think by the end our box was 95% packing tape.

All this talk about breaking the ice reminds me of conversations. And how some are deep and meaningful and some stay a little too on the surface. There are two types of people in the world, those who like ice-breakers and those who don’t. I’ve lead a lot of groups and facilitated a lot of ice breakers. Some people overshare every time and some give one word answers. But we use them because they work. People laugh or connect or just know something sort of trivial about others by the end.

I have no trouble breaking the ice when I’m leading a group, but sometimes I struggle with this when I’m talking to someone one-on-one. I’ll walk away from a conversation feeling like, “Did I actually just talk about the weather for 10 minutes?” That’s quintessential, boring small talk. Why couldn’t I find a better way to connect? Well, here are some ideas for making a better connection…

1. Listen

The times when I’ve actually made it past those surface conversations, I did less talking more listening. Often when we just allow for some silence, the conversation blossoms naturally. It turns out, lots of people have things they want to share, but they don’t always have the space to be open and vulnerable. They only need a little bit of silence to break the ice. I’m not great at this. If you’re reading this and thinking, I’m the one who listens to you, you know who you are. I have a few friends who are so good at this, I tend to talk and talk and talk. I’m so thankful for my listener friends. And I want to bo one for others. All it takes is zipping it long enough for them to talk. Teachers call this wait time. It’s okay to have silence in a conversation. It may be exactly what’s needed to get things moving.

2. Ask questions

You don’t have to be a therapist to ask questions. Sometimes one question will get someone talking. Sometimes you have to do a few follow ups. Example: “What are your kids/grandkids up to?” That question may be all you need to open the floodgates. Or they may need a bit of coaxing. If they say something like, “(Kid’s name) has been struggling lately”. They may be testing the waters to see if you actually care or just asked the question to be polite. A follow up question like, “I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like to talk about it?” shows you are truly there for them and willing to listen. Above all, be sincere. If this is a struggle for you because you’re often distracted or have trouble empathizing with someone, work hard to put your story and experiences aside long enough to listen to someone else. Waiting for a gap in the conversation so you can tell your story isn’t being a good listener. And people who need a listening ear can spot that a mile away.

3. Don’t welcome gossip

This can be a difficult one, but don’t be the itching ear for someone else’s gossip. It’s difficult because we want to know what’s going on. But gossip is like having ice cream for dinner. It tastes delicious in the moment, but makes you feel sick later. Once a friend sees you as a willing recipient for gossip, that’s what she’ll deliver when you’re together. There are ways to sidestep the gossip and it doesn’t even have to be that awkward. For instance, if your friends brings up something about another person, simply say, “I don’t know what she’s going through right now, so I really can’t judge.” A little empathy will give a signal to your friend that this won’t be a delicious gossip session and she may move on to another subject. Once she knows this isn’t the place to go with the scoop, she’ll talk about something else…or she won’t.

4. Know when the ice is too thick

Sometimes, the ice is simply unbreakable. There are certain people you will not connect with no matter how hard your try. And that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s especially hard when on paper you seem like a good match. There have been times when my husband will say, “You two would really get along. You have so much in common.” But for some reason, it’s like walking on a glacier. You can’t get past the small talk to break the ice. It’s fine. Sometimes that happens. Maybe it’s just a personality difference or maybe it’s just a season. Think of people you want to avoid sometimes because you’re going through something and you feel like they have it all together or they much judge you. Probably they don’t and won’t, but it may make you not want to confide in them. Others may be going through a similar season too. Have patience and be real with your struggles so they know you can be trusted. And if that doesn’t work, talk about the weather and then move on.

With a new school year on the horizon, you may find yourself on the sideline of your kids’ games or in the waiting area for dance or gymnastics. Use that time to try and connect. I know it’s easier to check out and stare at your phone or even get some reading time, but maybe there’s someone there who would use a listening ear. Why not try to break the ice and strike up a meaningful conversation. Who knows? You might get just as much from the connection as they do.




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