Catherine Hiles
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How to Break the Ice During a Carpool

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Front-seat female passenger on a tablet with OnStar with 4G LTE
Photo: GM

If you have a colleague or two who live close to you and have the same work hours of you, a carpool is a good way to cut down on traffic while getting to know your workmates better. Carpools are cost-effective (because you split the cost of gas) and efficient (because you’re releasing fewer harmful emissions by taking one car instead of two or three), but they can also be very awkward and uncomfortable if you don’t know your carpool buddies that well.

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Sure, if you’re carting a bunch of gabby kids — or even teens — to school, conversation should be easy. You can ask them about school, or just let them socialize with each other. Brainteasers and jokes go over well with the youngsters, and often, just playing the radio works for middle school and high school students. But what about when you’re carpooling with a mysterious coworker who works in the department next to you?

Never fear: we have a few tips on how to break the ice during a carpool that may help you out when you get stuck with someone really weird — and when silence feels more tense than awkward conversation.

Talk about your jobs

Woman presenting to team of office executives around table

If you do something different from your coworker or the person you’re riding with, talk about what draws you to the job, what complications you face, and maybe even where you’d like to go with your career. If you work in similar positions, you can talk about what’s going on with your workload and get their input on some projects you’re trying to tackle.

Talk about your cars

California Automobile Museum - 1965 Corvair Stinger Replica
1965 Corvair Stinger Replica

Talk about your first car and your carpool partner’s first car. The segue is easy: you are in a car after all. The story might be boring (“My first car was a Honda Accord that I drove until last year”), but it could also be very interesting (“My first car was a vintage Corvair that I renovated with my dad”) and could help you get to know more about your coworker and their interests.

Talk about your family

Family getting ready to go on a road trip

Ask about the other person’s family, and even talk about your own. If you both have kids, this is a pretty easy conversation. If you don’t have kids, you could talk about your pets and bond over your love for your four-legged children.

Talk about music

musician on stage with guitar

If you are the driver and conversation is tough, you can try to force out your passenger’s favorite music, and start playing it during future rides. You could even create a playlist that includes some of yours and your coworker’s favorite songs to appeal to both your tastes. If you share musical preferences, this is an easy way to pass the time while keeping you both entertained.

Try some conversation starters

Stock image of woman looking thoughtful. Grey background with white question marks photoshopped on.
Photo: Pixabay

Ask open-ended questions about where your colleague grew up, what they like to do in their spare time, and what brought them to this career choice. Depending on the relationship you eventually form with your carpool buddy, you can move on to questions, like “Would You Rather?” or “Never Have I Ever” (but be mindful of your conversation to make sure it doesn’t lead to an HR complaint against you).

Sportsball, TV, books

Photo of Overground Railroad book cover
What is your colleague’s favorite book?
Photo: The News Wheel

If all else fails, try to find common ground by asking what sports, TV shows, or books they are into. Hopefully you will connect on something, and you can turn that connection into conversation.

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And if that doesn’t work out, maybe start taking the bus. Good luck!