Psychologists motivate clients to change bad behaviors by allowing them to express why they should change and then helping them push past their ambivalence. Employers have begun using aspects of this approach to create a behavior-based method of job interviewing, called the motivational interview, that measures a candidate's commitment to goal-setting and change. This can make for a tough meeting. People would rather get a root canal than change just about anything. For the motivational interview to be effective, the interviewer must bring with her an axe strong enough to break an iceberg, or at the very least, be armed with some icebreakers clever enough to open dialogue about how to adapt when things don't go so well at work.
People don't usually associate fun with work. But more and more employers are beginning to embrace humor as a way to help increase productivity. In fact, 91 percent of executives feel humor is important at work. Lynn Taylor, a renowned workplace expert and author, states that humor helps foster “maturity and the ability to see the forest through the trees.” So what does this mean? When used appropriately, humor can show that a candidate is mature and can see past the immediate situation to focus on long-term goals. Using humor as an icebreaker in a motivational interview should open up dialogue about how the candidate adapts to the curve balls thrown at her when she is trying to reach goals. The humor doesn't have to turn into a complex stage act. It can be as simple as a joke -- but a tasteful joke.
In psychology, behavior questions focus on how a person acts in a given situation and assesses traits including motivation and confidence. This can also apply to the job interview. These questions differ from the direct questions such as, "Tell me about yourself," or "Why do you want to work for us?" Behavior questions probe into the past. They measure reactions to situations and don't solicit opinions. To use behavior questions as icebreakers, you might have to tweak traditional icebreaker questions to allow for explanations of behavior. For example, if your office is hard to find, instead of asking, "Did you find the place okay?" you could say, "This area is beautiful. Most first-time visitors get lost because they get caught up in the scenery. How did you get here on time?" The candidate can answer several ways. She could respond by saying she mapped it, or she did an initial drive-by, or she got lost but held it together or that she doesn't ever get lost. Either way, you will get a sense of her confidence and motivation to get to the interview on time. And you have something to talk about outside of the job.
Special activities used as icebreakers are usually reserved for groups. They are designed for people to get to know each other. One purpose for these icebreakers is to "level" the energy in the room. You want to bring introverts out of their shells and better communicate with those who are outgoing, and you want to make the extroverts feel comfortable enough not to offend the introverts. For example, a group facilitator might break the ice by giving the introverts a task involving speech or control. This concept also applies to the motivational interview. Both you and the candidate must have the same energy level because she must feel comfortable enough to explain, in detail, her past behavior. The best way to accomplish this is to identify both of you as the group members and then use a scaled down version of a group activity. For example, you can use the "little-known fact" icebreaker, where both of you would state a fact about each other that other people might not know. This "humanizes" both of you.
Selecting the right icebreaker takes some thought. The one you pick needs to coincide with the theme of the interview. If not, you will jar the candidate. Plan ahead. Thoroughly study the concept of the motivational interview, set your plan, and have your icebreaker coincide with your company's culture. As a general theme, icebreakers are considered games. You don't want to turn your motivational interview into a circus, though. Make sure to balance the icebreaker with professionalism. You don't want to use too much humor and relax the candidate to the point she lounges. Keep it fun -- but keep it professional.
- Forbes: 10 Reasons Why Humor Is A Key To Success At Work; Jacquelyn Smith; May 2013
- Motivational Interview: A Defininition of Motivational Interviewing
- Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network: Motivational Interviewing
- Nova Southeastern University: Motivational Interviewing Strategies and Techniques: Rationales and Examples; Linda Sobell and Mark Sobell; 2008
- Managementhelp.org: Icebreakers – The Who, What, When and When Not to Do Them; Jack Shaw; December 2010
- Mind Tools: Ice Breakers
Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.