I was always taught to be weary of the ice breaking
We went to a leadership retreat, it was the first one the company had with the current team, and while the current year was turning out to be hugely successful, we were all still pretty raw from the ongoing feudal treatment of the overlord owner in the past. Well, all of us except for the new girl. She still didn’t know what she’d gotten herself into. Yet somehow we were supposed to flip a switch and overcome all the trepidation that we’d been taught to hold over the past several years.
I’m sure that all made sense in the mind of the narcissistic owner of the company as he led us up there with fully planned discussion points and expected outcomes.
The location, which had only been revealed a few days prior, was at the end of the island at the end of the earth, down a multi-mile dirt road with no neighbors in sight, not that anyone would be there since it was the off season for this resort town. It was a remarkably stunning, relaxing, inspiring setting.
As we sat around on the couches in the open expanse of a living room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, while seals barked in the background and played in the wild waves brought on by the early autumn weather, we started the first session.
Our boss began by suggesting ice breaker questions. I use the term “suggested” loosely. I think he even had notes on how to causally raise the idea, complete with annotations on where and what type of inflections to use when mentioning it to make it sound off the cuff.
My understanding of ice breakers is that they are discussion points designed to be light-hearted and easy, to break any tension and ease folks into a level of comfort quickly. These, I have dubbed, Australian Ice Breakers, as they did the opposite. Sure, they seemed simple enough, but the first one, “Tell us something we don’t know about you” came across like a cult confessional, where any and every word would be stored to be used at a later date.
The owner went first, and we heard of his heart-wrenching upbringing of being loved but inadvertently neglected due to all the special needs of his wonderful siblings. We moved along to the new girl who broke down at the mention of her parents moving out of state and this being the first time she was ever really so far from them. From there we went on to the older fellow who dedicated his life to the happiness of his family at the exclusion of his own needs, the younger fellow who broke down over his inability to keep his fly zipped, causing his third divorce and ruining the lives of his children, again, then on to the other one who told tales of horror through tears at the awful behavior he perpetrated on his intellectually challenged brother. Then it was my turn.
There’s no crying at work. So my answer was merely to divulge that I have a collection of stuffed animals. They all looked at me with exasperation; I had clearly let them down. I was the one who broke the circle of tears and apparently my revelation did not meet the level of vulnerability that they had defined in their own minds.
What they all failed to realize is that I was the only one there who had revealed anything already unknown or shared, and the little piece of information I did offer up allowed for a wealth of insight into who I am as a person. It was clearly something wholly unexpected of my work persona. Instead of opening the discussion with questions or prodding for more information, they chose to be disappointed.
A few days after we had returned, one person came to me, the older gentleman, who asked me about the collection. We had what turned into an hour long discussion of German made collectible dolls and the meaning that they shared in our lives as children, and how they continue to play a role in the lives of our families. We talked about which ones we both knew, how we acquired the different ones, and which we truly coveted.
My revelation was definitely a vulnerability, a window into who I am as a person, not an employee, and was certainly unknown to the others prior to that. But it did not offer an edge to hold over me for later use. And so I had set the tone; inadvertently awakening the feudal lord who called for the unleashing of the flying monkeys in full force.
They gleefully obliged.
It was time to move on.