Ice Breaking Questions: Tips for Initiating and Maintaining a Conversation

ice breaking questionsImagine you’re at a dinner party at the home of a friend. Several people that you don’t know are in attendance, and your friend is hoping you get the chance to get connected with some new people. Meeting new people sounds both exciting and terrifying. In the moment, you feel the pressure. What should you say? Should you say anything? Do you just walk up to anyone? Should you let them initiate the conversation? Surely, meeting new people shouldn’t be so complicated. We are inherently social creatures who long to connect with another person on a deep level, but that doesn’t mean developing those connections comes easy. Sure, for some people they might come easy, but many people struggle just to initiate a conversation with someone new, let alone a meaningful relationship. Think about it. When you meet someone for the first time, what do you know about each other? Other than what the other person looks like or anything you might have heard about them before meeting them, the two of you are completely in the dark about one another.

Many relationships begin with one friend introducing someone to another friend, but the introduction itself doesn’t create a friendship. Things get even more complicated if you’re single and you’re interested in meeting someone who could potentially become more than a friend. The ability to initiate a conversation and strategically navigate interpersonal communication can be vital to the development of a relational connection between two people. Initiating a conversation can be very nerve-wracking for many people because they don’t want to appear foolish to the other person. They also don’t want to give the impression that they’re desperate for connection with another human being. Self-consciousness alone can often derail a conversation before it even begins. Because interpersonal communication is so important and so involved, it’s a time when you want to make a good impression by being interesting and being interested in the other person. Check out this course for more information on how to make a great first impression. The key to initiating any conversation is often found in asking some well-placed ice breaking questions.

The Art of Ice Breaking Questions

Questions are ideal for initiating a conversation because they’re designed to illicit a response. If you just walk up to someone and make a comment about the weather or about the event you’re at, there are no guarantees that the person will respond. In fact, they may not even know how to respond. For people who struggle with interpersonal communication, it often feels like you’re the only one who struggles with carrying a conversation with someone else. You might find yourself on the other end of a conversation in which you’re not the only one who isn’t sure what to do or say next. Questions are much better both for initiating and maintaining a conversation than offering simple comments on a variety of subjects. Yet asking questions is really an art. Too many questions, too soon, and too deep can make you seem more like a stalker than a potential friend. Nobody wants that, so it’s important to exercise a certain level of tact when asking questions of someone you’ve just met. There are three types of ice breaking questions you can use to initiate and maintain a conversation with someone new. These are questions about the past, questions about the present, and questions about the future.

Ice Breaking Questions about the Past

This type of question is basically about learning a little about the other person’s backstory. Everyone has a history. This includes choices they’ve made and events that have happened to them. Every event in a person’s life shapes who they are in the present moment. What often makes another person interesting are the experiences they’ve had throughout their lifetime. You ask questions about the past in order to gain insight into who they are and what has influenced who they’ve become. Below are some examples of questions about the past that you could ask.

  • Where did you grow up?

  • What was your favorite part of growing up?

  • What do you do for a living?

  • How did you get to where you are now?

  • What was your family like?

  • Where did you go to high school?

  • What was your favorite part of high school?

  • Where did you go to college?

  • What did you study in college?

Ice Breaking Questions about the Present

This type of question requires you to be observant of the present context in which you and the other person find yourselves and asking questions relevant to what you observe. It can be easy for people who struggle with interpersonal communication to be physically present while their mind is focused on other things. They’re present, but not fully present. Initiating a conversation requires you to be fully present in the situation so that you can use any external stimuli as a springboard for conversation. For example, it’s common for people who are trying to initiate a conversation to comment on the weather. However, remember that comments don’t require a response and they don’t suggest a specific response, possibly making it more difficult for the person you’re trying to initiate a conversation with. Noticing that it’s raining outside and asking the person you’ve just met how their drive was in the weather is an example of being observant and asking a question relevant to the present situation. It’s also about tapping into the interests of the person you’re talking to. These ice breaking questions aren’t always the first thing you ask. Sometimes they’re questions you ask as follow up questions after a conversation has already started. Part of being observant and being fully present in a conversation is being a good listener. This course will help you to develop the skills to be a conscious listener. Below are some more examples of questions you can ask about the present.

  • What are you doing right now that you really enjoy doing?

  • What brings you here?

  • What do you think about this (party, event, get together)?

  • What is your favorite movie right now?

  • Who is your favorite music artist?

  • What is your favorite place to visit?

Ice Breaking Questions about the Future

Everyone has hopes for the future, and this often determines all of the things that they will do in life. On a level below the big dreams that people have for their lives, people are always making plans for the immediate future. Maybe a holiday is coming up next week. This a great opportunity to ask another person what plans they may have for the holiday. Asking questions about the future can give you insight into what the other person is interested in and what they hope for in the future. This course will help you to think through important questions about your own future. Below are some examples of possible questions you can ask about the future.

  • What are your plans for the weekend?

  • What is one thing you hope to do in the future?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • What is your dream job?

  • What are the top 3 places you wish you could visit someday? Why?

Ice Breaking Questions and Follow Up

You have to remember not to rush through so many questions when you first meet someone that they feel like they’re being assaulted by someone who is a little too curious for their own good. The idea behind ice breaking questions is initiating a back-and-forth conversation. Think through the types of questions above and come up with some of your own. Practice using these questions either as initial ice breakers or questions that carry an already established conversation going. For more information on learning how to be a better communicator in conversations, take a look at this course on how communication works.