Business managers are often called upon to help settle conflicts between employees. This is a challenging proposition that involves actively bringing together parties who are not happy with one another which makes for a tense environment. A smart manager will take steps to reduce hostilities and stress by the use of an icebreaker, an activity meant to smooth the way into serious discussion.


"Icebreaker" is a term for an action that thaws a chilly atmosphere. In a workplace, supervisors use these activities to get their employees to communicate more readily and with less volatility. Alleviating tension is the primary goal and in a conflict resolution meeting, the icebreaker can provide a cool period before the participants enter into what can be a difficult conversation. The icebreaker often allows each participant to get to know each other a little more on a personal level.

Set the Stage

Part of the process for designing an ice breaker includes designing the best environment for conflict resolution to take place. Create a calm environment in which to bring the employees who are involved in a conflict. Arrange comfortable seating in which everyone has their own space. The chairs should be of equitable height so that everyone can communicate on eye level. Consider playing soft, upbeat music in the background to promote a hopeful atmosphere. Purchase bottled water and light snacks for anticipated long sessions. Dress in business causal clothes rather than stiff formal attire to help set workers at ease.


Your icebreaker should help with the problem-solving process. For instance, the root cause of many conflicts between your employees is due to a lack of communication. In order to help resolve this problem, plan an icebreaker which helps people talk to each other. This could be the sharing of an important event in each person's life or asking each individual to write down three statements about themselves, one of which is not true, and having the others guess which ones are false. Other icebreakers can be solving a puzzle together or collaborating on a short story in which the each person stops at a critical moment to pass on the narrative to the next individual.


The manager should be careful to treat icebreakers as brief exercises to ease into important communication. She must take care not to pressure upset employees into "playing games" rather than helping them resolve difficulties. For this reason, the planned icebreaker should be brief in nature, uncomplicated and its intent explained to everyone involved. Take care that the activity is not one which is likely to cause embarrassment. Be aware, too, that an angry employee might try to take verbal jabs at another employee through the activity, so orchestrate the event in such a way as to prevent this from happening. For example, when playing a word game make it a rule that all terms must be positive in nature.