A Delicious Icebreaker

It can be awkward breaking the ice with someone new, even for someone like me, who’s used to his words. You can only talk about the weather so many times.

One of my favorite go-to’s is a tried-and-true question that gets everyone talking. It puts a little spring in their step. Beware, this is best for when you have a few minutes to kill (a Buffalo elevator ride is probably not enough time) and for when there’s a certain friendly rapport. Obviously, know your audience and read the room. Don’t ask a buttoned-up CEO this question as he or she heads into a board meeting. (Or maybe, do? I dunno, that’s your call.) Okay, here it is:

Are you a pie person or a cake person?

That’s it. I know, it sounds silly. Who cares what Bruce in receiving eats for dessert. Why do I need to know about Karen in finance’s sweet tooth? You don’t, except that you do.

When you ask people to think about something that makes them happy, they smile. And when they smile, and think about that perfect bite (probably attached to a fond personal memory), they open up in a way that just doesn’t happen that often on an average work day. You see them bloom a little, their juices flowing.

I’ve been asking this question to more and more people over the years, an informal experiment. Their answers don’t really matter to me (except for the tasty ideas you’ll get). But watching them formulate their answer does. It comes with an important followup:

Describe your ideal piece, in detail.

Be specific. For a pie, what kind of crust? What’s the filling? What’s it served with, and at what approximate temperature? Spoon or fork, bowl or plate? For cake, what’s the texture like? How’s it filled and topped? How big or small a piece? A la mode, or nada mode?

This is where it gets fun. There’s nothing like asking a grown adult, probably swimming in deadlines and responsibilities, to describe their happiness. Maybe they’re not into either, which is cool. Have them describe their favorite whatever—ice cream, bowl of fruit, pastry, etc. Or just pivot to another course: Soup or salad? Sandwich or salad? (Anything casual or salad?) You get the idea.

The next time you want to get professionally closer with a colleague or client, and the mood is right, give this a whirl. See what they say. Watch as they open up, notice how meticulous they are in describing their perfect bite. You’ll gain insight into their joy—which can easily be you if you know how to work it. Know what makes them happy, and let them know what makes you happy. You never know when it’ll come in handy.

P.S. Fruit pie, berry or peach, lattice crust, a medium slice (enough for a sliver of seconds), served room temperature with a small scoop of good vanilla. I eat from the center toward my favorite part: the crust handle. 🙂