For as long as I can remember, I have hated ice-breakers (or ice-breaking activities). I found them stupid and/or awkward when I was a teenager, and, thanks to recent encounters, I realise that I find them stupid and/or awkward now. But I guess I am at a place where I can better reflect and articulate why I hate them so.
Wikipedia defines icebreaker as "a facilitation exercise intended to help a group to begin the process of forming themselves into a team"; and icebreakerideas.com defines it as "an activity, exercise, or experience designed to break the ‘ice’ that typically limits or inhibits interactions of a group of people who may or may not know each other."
I think the first problem I have with icebreakers is the premise of having an activity to achieve those goals - even though the goal of forming a team or getting to know each other is a fine goal. In the same way, one might want one's parents and one's in-laws to be more friendly with each other (which is kind of a worthy goal), or two of one's friends to become a couple - but that does not mean they should be arranged to be on a blind date. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I think some relationships should be developed naturally and organically rather than artificially.
I understand that there are situations where the organiser/facilitator would like a group of people to get to know each other in a short period of time, but I guess I am not kind enough to always buy in. In educational/class-room settings, I am painfully aware of the delicate balance between a teacher/speaker's request and the student/audience's "obedience". I don't always "obey" when a speaker at a seminar asks the audience to "Think of a time when [...]" or when a lecturer asks us to "Try to solve this problem".
So I am doubly offended when I am in a position where I am not obliged to follow any instructions (e.g. if I am just attending a talk, rather than as a student attending a lecture), and THEN the speaker/organiser (consciously or otherwise) try to use group-dynamic to pressure me into doing something. Imagine going to a seminar and the speaker asks one to "think of a little known fact about yourself". And then, rather than explaining why it is a good idea to do so, just say that one is expected to tell one's groupmates about it.
I guess the "little known fact about yourself" is not really important per se... it is just ammunition for breaking the ice, for building the team, for getting to know each other. And I am just not willing to do that little thing, to sacrifice myself, for the greater good.
It frustrated me, and continues to frustrate me that no one else seems to mind... or at least not bothered enough to refuse to participate in these icebreaking activities. I remember occasions when hundreds of other participants are doing these group activities and I was the only one stand at the back of the room.
When I was a teenager, I did not understand why other teenagers put up with games like musical chair, pass the parcel, Chinese whispers, or 大風吹. Now I guess they were still able to extract some silly fun from them, and they did not feel their intelligence being insulted. Or they somehow felt obliged to go through it for the benefit of the group, or at least trying not to be disruptive. None of those I was able to do, nor am I able to do now.
Maybe my idea of fun is just too different to other people's, or I am just too proud. But I think it is true that most of the icebreaking activities I encountered throughout my life were, at least to me, so boring, pointless, stupid, or cringe-worthy that they were counterproductive. I am not sure what to do... when these activities broke the ice for other people but not for me. Can there not be better ways to break the ice? To get to know people?