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    A provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Ice Breaker
October 13, 2013 - 3:40pm

There are many situations where as an administrator or as a not-for-profit board member it is necessary to engage strangers or almost strangers in conversations for the good of the organization.  Often these conversations go well but first there is that awkward introductory phase. I am sure there are many good alternatives but I have one that may be a guaranteed success.  A cute dog is a great ice breaker.

The latest personal example of the effectiveness of a cute dog was yesterday’s homecoming parade at my local school district.  As a board of education member, I march in the parade, which I enjoy doing, but there are always a significant number of parents and students who I don’t know.  Yesterday, for the first time, I brought my dog along and thanks to her, many, many marchers in the parade and many parade watchers came up to me to ask about the dog (who by the way was dressed appropriately in the school colors).  Once the person has played with the dog or you have talked about the dog, it is the perfect opening to a more substantive conversation.  For example one dog-initiated conversation quickly turned to the topic of responsible testing and the conversation was certainly worthwhile.

About a month ago, when my kids were both away, my wife and I decided to spend the weekend in Manhattan and, since it is was easier than making dog sitting arrangements, we decided to take our dog along.  What a difference a dog makes.  The first time I took her for a walk, shortly after we arrived, I found myself in multiple conversations with individuals I would never otherwise have a conversation with.  At one point, later in the weekend, when my wife and I were walking the dog, we sat down on a bench in Battery Park city. The next thing I knew, we were in a conversation with a young woman who was on the other end of the bench and the woman’s terrier was sitting on my lap.  I must admit that my dog was very unhappy at the turn of events but we all had a good conversation, especially once the terrier left my lap and my dog took her rightful position. 

As soon as we returned home, I called one of my friends who is single and offered the dog as a weekend ice breaker if he wanted to spend the weekend in the city.  In my opinion the dog has more potential than many social media sights to bring people together.

I didn’t have a dog when I was growing up.  I had fish and a parakeet.  They were all terrific but with significant limitations and none of them were walking companions and therefore unable to fulfill an ice breaking role.  When my kids wanted a dog, my wife and I resisted feeling we would end up doing most of the work and we were correct in that assumption.  But the dog has been a great addition to the family and we are all thrilled with her.  She is warm, loving, playful, cute and all the good things you could want in a dog.  And as an ice breaker she is awesome.  I am already planning for other opportunities where she will be my lead support in meet and great situations.

 

 

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