Icebreakers can warm the chill

If you have ever attended a conference or in-service, there?s always an ?icebreaker? of sorts.

It may be writing down a little-known fact about yourself, and others guessing to whom it applies. Or maybe it?s a short but concise personality test.

One of my favorite ice-breakers was administered by Sue Evans at the Northwest Kan?sas Regional Prevention Cen?ter in Colby almost 20 years ago.

Sue told me about this test using colors and how she had been given the test in a seminar she attended.

In those days, I was the publisher of a small daily newspaper in Colby. I got that job through attrition when the former publisher walked out.

One of the first things I introduced as the new publisher was a weekly staff meeting. What a dumb idea. After awhile, I really learned to dislike those meetings.

Everyone at that meeting didn?t think his or her point of view was being addressed with the importance it deserved.

Sadly, I watched as my staff bickered with one another. I started to realize why the former publisher had left, but I couldn?t do that. It was about their livelihood as much as my own.

I decided to speak to Sue about my concerns. I knew she would be unbiased and, as the director of the regional prevention center, she had tools that could help.

To my chagrin, I didn?t think I had communicated the seriousness of my situation when she suggested this personality test using colors.

I wasn?t interested in some stupid parlor game.

?Sue, I am facing a near mutiny!?

Yes, I am exaggerating a bit, but all kidding aside, the pressure of leadership was beginning to take its toll on me. Not only did I have to answer to the corporation, but I had 12 people I cared about.

Being a people-pleaser, this was the worst possible fit for me. I started realizing that God sure did have a sense of humor.

Anyway, I told Sue I would give it a try, and I sold the idea to a grumbling group of people whom I bribed with pizza and soft drinks.

Before I realized the outcome, I believed the pressman was a bully and disliked everybody.

The circulation clerk was someone I believed was a gossip and wanted to make the pressman?s job a nightmare.

As for the graphic designer, I knew she was strong-willed and did everything she could to intimidate the ad staff.

And the ad reps were just plain victims.

The newsroom had its group of characters, too. As for me, I saw myself as the peacekeeper.

Again, this was how I sized everyone up before the testing.

From what I can remember about the actual test, we were given a group of five flashcards and were asked to prioritize them from most appealing to least.

One flashcard might have an alarm clock, numbers and orderly things floating around.

Another card had a guy surfing, spontaneous activities, or people doing fun things. On yet another card it might show a child, a heart and tranquil images. One of the cards showed a person thinking and other similar images.

All of the flashcards were cartoonish-looking pictures, which kept the seriousness to a minimum, but once we made our choices, the results were unbelievable.

The grumpy pressman was only grumpy because he was a ?detail? person. He liked deadlines and everything in its place. His color was ?yellow.? He and the bookkeeper, who was also ?yellow,? were good buddies before and after the test.

Once we all realized ?time? was extremely important to him, everyone tried to do a better job of keeping him from losing his cool.

As for the strong-willed graphic designer who scared the ad reps, her first choice was the flashcard depicting a warm-hearted, loving person or ?blue? color.

I almost fell out of my chair, but the more I listened and watched her, I could see that.

The gossipy circulation clerk chose a warm-hearted person, too. Again, it shocked me?then and now.

One of our ad reps chose the ?green? card as his first choice, which meant he was someone who likes coming up with plans and thinking long-range.

Before seeing my flashcard, everyone pegged me as the ?orange? person?the adventurer, the person who likes being active and busy. The peacekeeper role wasn?t even in my top picks.

Of course, nobody is all of one color and none of the others, but it was a great starting point for us as a group. We still had our bumps in the road, but every so often someone would say, ?Oh, Larry is being ?yellow? again.? Or the graphic designer is in her ?blue? mood.

A friend of mine once told me that wherever I go, there I am. It just doesn?t matter how far away we try to go, we are still going to be taking ourselves with us?the good and the bad.

Taking a little initiative to understand those around us can do so much good for them and us.

I also believe people don?t leave jobs because of their inability to do the work, but rather their inability to get along with other people.

Patty Decker is a news and features writer for the Free Press. Her coverage beat includes Marion city government and organizations. She can be reached at patty@hills?