Be a Better Meeting Host with Relationship Building Questions

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About a year ago I published a list of questions I sometimes use as relationship-building questions to kick off meetings or gatherings. These are questions that help the group get to know each other a little better so we can build stronger relationships. When we know each other better we can do work more effectively and with more care.

One of my favorite authors and meeting/facilitator icons is Priya Parker. In her book The Art of Gathering she shared:

“Your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy. It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honor them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.” -Priya Parker

In creating a welcoming and belonging space, I want everyone to feel like they can contribute to the conversation. Sometimes that contribution is by sharing and other times it is by listening. Both of these skills are practiced when we invite people to share during a relationship builder/ice breaker.

Here is a new batch of questions to help keep your relationship builders and ice breakers crispy or fresh:

  1. What is the soundtrack to your life right now?
  2. What would your five-word bio say?
  3. If you could get a ticket to any entertainment show (e.g. theatre, movie, music, poetry slam, etc.), premium seats and all-expenses-paid what would you choose and where?
  4. What is your favorite grocery store and what is your favorite splurge purchase to get there?
  5. For virtual meetings: What is an emoji that shows how you’re feeling right now? This is a good one if you don’t have a lot of time but want to invite people to quickly share in the chat box. Be sure to verbally acknowledge what people are posting in the box and invite others to check it out too.
  6. What is something you re-read or re-watched or re-visited lately and how has it impacted you? (Note: Don’t assume everyone reads; practicing inclusion of learning disabilities and understanding not everyone has access to print or other media, broaden the statement to multiple ways people may want to understand this prompt.)
  7. Another Priya Parker quote: “Find a way to honor that person instead of their job description.” Explain you want to honor who is at your meeting/gathering as people, not jobs. Invite them to describe who they are without mentioning their job.
  8. What is a non-work related skill or activity you’re learning right now? (If you use the Color Brave Space meeting norms, you can link this back to the norm of “look for learning and commit to learning in public.” We’re practicing learning in public by sharing what we learn in a less worky way.)
  9. For in-person gatherings, create a matching game – As people enter hand people a card with a symbol, letter (works well if you have half the set of capital letters and lower case), or something meaningful to the meeting, or if you’re out of ideas an M&M (tell them not to eat it). When the time is right, instruct the group to find their partner, such as find someone with the same or different color M&M, same picture or letter, and talk about whatever prompt you give them. This is a way to break up cliques and force people to get to know someone else.
  10. Take the matching game to the next level – Good meetings force people to engage and stretch themselves. Socially engineer which people you want to get to know each other and explain why you paired them. It can be as simple as having index cards with the attendee’s names and under it, writing suggested names of a few others they should meet during the ice breaker.

Closings – Never End Without a Meaningful Closing

In another blog post I’ll write more about why it is important to close a meeting with more than a “bye!” This was another Priya Parker lesson that was reiterated during an online conference I got to hear her speak at. One of my go-to closings is to end a meeting is to explain we just did something meaningful together. We learned together, practiced creating a Color Brave Space, and spent time together. We need to reflect and honor ourselves for that work. I ask people to pause with me and think of a gratitude so this sticks more with us. After pausing, I often count to eight in my head, I thank people and close the meeting. The closing doesn’t have to be uber serious but it should thank and show your group you are honoring that they chose to stick with you until the end.

Thank you for reading until the end, or if you skipped to the end thanks for checking out the ending. Thank you for being a part of the fakequity community, high fives all around.

Many thanks to the colleagues and friends who may have originated some of these questions over the years. I apologize for not thanking you by name since some of these have been used for so long their origins are now lost.

Why I wrote this: I wrote this to provide another set of tools to create better relationships, which hopefully leads to more racially just outcomes.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.