Thoughtful Ice Breakers That Lead to Meaningful Conversations

Posted on 04/22/2020

Right now, more than ever, people around the globe are reflecting on their life values, what kind of treatment they would want in the event of a medical crisis and who they would want to speak for them if a time came where they could not speak for themselves. We have been hearing and reading stories about people who are taking the time during our current state in order to express what matters most to them. However, we are also hearing that many people want to have these value-centered conversations with their friends and/or family but are unsure as to how they can start the conversation. Below are a sample of ice breakers you can use to broach this important topic with those who matter most. Read through the list, then comment below with any additional ideas you may have.

Use current events or popular culture as a jumping-off point:

“I was reading this article/listening to an interview/saw this Facebook post…and it made me realize I’m not entirely clear on what your wishes would be if you get really sick…”

“Remember that movie/show we watched the other day? That scene made me think about how important to share what’s on my heart/values/what matters most to me…”

Walk the walk and lead by example:

“Dad, Alex and I were just talking about what matters most to us if we get really sick. Have you thought about that?”

“Bob and I just had this conversation and I wanted to let you know he’s my decision maker if I can’t speak for myself. Do you have a decision maker?”

Offer clarification and ask clarifying question:

“I’ve been reviewing the advance directive we talked about last year and realized I have some updates and wanted to be sure you knew…”

“I remember you once said that when it comes to receiving medical treatment, you want the ‘whole enchilada.’ What exactly did you mean by that?”

“Dad, I know you and I talked about what quality of life means to you, has anything changed given all that is happening right now?”


“Mom, I know you don’t love talking about this – but I want to be sure I can honor…”

“I think I’ve heard you say XYZ, is that right? Anything else you’d want me to know?”

Bring it up after a diagnosis:

“I have faith that everything will be alright, but in the off chance that something happens to me, here’s what I want you to know…”

“I love you and I want you to live your best life until the very end. What should I know and what can I do to ensure that?”

If you would like more ideas about breaking the ice, check a few other resources. Page eight of our Conversation Starter Guide lists several practical ice breakers. We created a script for financial planners where you can glean more ways to jump start a conversation. You can also check out the sixth tool in this toolkit for advance care planning from the American Bar Association.

We often joke about changing our name to The ConversationS Project (with an emphasis on the “S”) because we know that this topic requires more than just one conversation. Maybe for you one conversation is all it takes. Or, maybe it will take two or four chats with that special someone to fully flesh out your thoughts. Whatever it takes, it’s simply important that you take that first step to ensure what matters most to you is expressed by breaking the ice.

2 Responses

  1. Denyse Burns says:

    This is an absolutely excellent article and so timely. The conversation starters will prompt some good dialogue. Many people aren’t sure how to begin the conversation or what they need to talk about.As an End of life Doula, I see this as such a needed conversation. Being ready for the end of life is important, no matter what age you are.

  2. Susan MacIsaac says:

    What a great idea to bring forth various icebreakers for starting conversations. Very helpful.

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