A great activity for everyone

Fear in a Hat

Unleash hidden fears and forge unity through an anonymous worry-sharing game

Fear in a Hat
By Jon Zajac

What is Fear in a Hat?

The Fear in a Hat icebreaker is a teambuilding exercise that I recommend for promoting unity and group cohesion at the start of a class semester. Its purpose is to allow individuals to anonymously share their personal fears or worries, which are then read aloud and discussed by the group. This activity helps to build trust and understanding among team members, as they gain insight into each other’s concerns and realize that they are not alone in their anxieties. The Fear in a Hat icebreaker requires writing utensils, paper, and a hat, and it can be run with groups of at least eight but no larger than 20 people. It is suitable for individuals aged 14 and up. Overall, this activity is an effective way to foster a supportive and open environment in any group setting.

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Rules for Fear in a Hat

  1. Distribute a sheet of paper and a writing utensil to each person.
  2. Instruct them to anonymously write a fear or worry that they have, being specific and honest but not easily identified.
  3. Collect all sheets into a large hat after everyone is done writing.
  4. Shuffle the sheets and pass out one per person.
  5. Take turns reading one fear aloud, attempting to explain what the writer means.
  6. No comments or discussion are allowed after each reader’s explanation.
  7. After all fears have been read and elaborated, discuss common fears as a group.

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Materials needed for Fear in a Hat

  • Writing utensils: Each participant will need a writing tool to write their fear or worry on a piece of paper.
  • Sheets of paper: Distribute one sheet per person for them to anonymously write down their fear or worry.
  • A hat (or other container): Collect all the written fears and place them in a hat or other container. This will be used to randomly distribute the papers to participants during the activity.

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Setting up for Fear in a Hat

To set up for the Fear in a Hat icebreaker activity, you will need to provide a sheet of paper and a writing utensil for each person participating. Instruct them to anonymously write a fear or worry that they have, being as specific and honest as possible without making it easy to identify who wrote it. Once everyone is done writing, collect all the sheets and place them in a large hat. That’s it for the setup! Remember, do not discuss materials needed; only focus on these steps for setting up the activity.

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How to play Fear in a Hat

  1. Distribute writing materials: I hand out a sheet of paper and a writing utensil to each person in the group.
  2. Instruct participants to write their fears: I ask everyone to anonymously write down a fear or worry they have, being as specific and honest as possible without making themselves easily identifiable.
  3. Collect written fears: Once everyone is done writing, I collect all the sheets and place them in a large hat.
  4. Shuffle the papers: Before starting the activity, I mix up the papers in the hat to ensure random selection.
  5. Distribute one fear per person: I pass out one paper from the hat to each participant.
  6. Read fears aloud: Taking turns, participants read the fear on their paper and attempt to explain what they believe the author of the fear means. No comments or discussions are allowed during this phase.
  7. Discuss common fears: After all fears have been read and elaborated, we gather as a whole group and discuss any common fears that were shared during the activity. This discussion can lead to topics such as team contracts or group goals.
  8. Reflect on trust and unity: By recognizing similarities in their fears, participants build trust and unity, realizing they are not alone in their concerns.

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Benefits of Fear in a Hat

  • Builds Trust and Unity: By sharing their fears and anxieties with the group, individuals can develop a stronger sense of connection and understanding with one another, fostering a more cohesive team dynamic.
  • Encourages Active Listening: The structure of the activity, in which each fear is read aloud and then elaborated upon without interruption, helps to promote active listening skills and attentiveness among participants.
  • Provides Insight into Group Dynamics: By discussing common fears and concerns as a group, leaders and facilitators can gain valuable insights into the needs, concerns, and perspectives of their team members, helping to create a more inclusive and supportive environment.
  • Promotes Honesty and Openness: The anonymous nature of the activity allows individuals to be honest about their fears and worries without fear of judgment or reprisal, creating a safer space for open communication and vulnerability.
  • Fosters Empathy and Understanding: By attempting to understand and describe the fears of others, participants can develop greater empathy and compassion for their team members, leading to stronger relationships and more effective collaboration.

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Skills built with Fear in a Hat

  • Communication Skills: Players practice expressing their understanding of others’ fears, which can help improve overall communication within the group.
  • Empathy: By trying to understand and relate to others’ fears, players can develop their ability to empathize with others.
  • Active Listening: The rule against commenting on readers’ interpretations encourages active listening, as players must focus on understanding each fear without interruption.
  • Trust Building: Sharing fears anonymously and hearing others do the same can help build trust among group members, creating a safer space for open communication.
  • Teamwork: Discussing common fears and setting team goals or contracts fosters a sense of unity and collaboration.
  • Critical Thinking: Interpreting and describing others’ fears can challenge players to think critically about the meaning behind each fear and how it might affect different individuals.

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Why I like Fear in a Hat

I appreciate the Fear in a Hat icebreaker because it encourages open communication and fosters a sense of community among participants. By anonymously sharing fears and having others attempt to understand and empathize with them, individuals can gain new perspectives and feel more connected to their peers.

This activity also allows for authenticity and vulnerability in a safe and supportive environment. It provides an opportunity for people to express their concerns and worries, which can help reduce anxiety and stress. Additionally, the discussion that follows can lead to setting team goals and creating a team contract, further enhancing group cohesion.

From a personal standpoint, I find that Fear in a Hat helps build trust and rapport within a group, as participants listen actively and respond empathetically to one another’s fears. This creates a positive and inclusive atmosphere that can enhance learning and collaboration throughout the semester. Overall, I believe that the Fear in a Hat icebreaker is an effective teambuilding exercise that promotes unity, trust, and understanding among group members.

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Tips for making Fear in a Hat more inclusive

  • Tip: Provide anonymous alternative for sharing fears As some individuals may feel uncomfortable sharing their fears verbally, consider providing an anonymous way for them to participate in the discussion. For instance, you could use an online form or a suggestion box where group members can submit their thoughts without revealing their identities.
  • Tip: Use inclusive language and examples When explaining the activity, make sure to use gender-neutral and culturally sensitive language. Provide examples that reflect diverse backgrounds and experiences to help all participants feel included and understood.
  • Tip: Consider offering language support If your group includes non-native English speakers, consider providing language support or translation services to ensure that everyone can fully participate in the activity. This could include having a bilingual facilitator, using visual aids, or providing written instructions in multiple languages.
  • Tip: Encourage respectful listening Emphasize the importance of active listening and respectful communication during the activity. Encourage participants to avoid interrupting each other and to show empathy and understanding towards their peers’ fears and concerns.
  • Tip: Adapt the activity for different abilities and learning styles Consider adapting the activity to accommodate participants with different abilities and learning styles. For example, you could provide visual aids or allow extra time for those who need it. You could also offer alternative ways of participating, such as drawing a picture or creating a poem that represents their fear.
  • Tip: Foster a safe and supportive environment Make sure to establish clear guidelines for respectful and inclusive behavior at the beginning of the activity. Encourage participants to be kind and supportive towards each other, and remind them that they are free to opt out of any part of the activity that makes them uncomfortable.

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Reflection questions for Fear in a Hat

  1. What did you learn about your peers through this activity? Understanding what your group members fear can give you insight into their perspectives and experiences. This question encourages participants to reflect on how this activity affected their perception of their peers.
  2. How does it feel to share your fears with the group? This question prompts introspection about vulnerability and openness, which are important aspects of teambuilding. It also gives facilitators feedback on the effectiveness of the exercise in fostering trust.
  3. Did any of the read fears resonate with you personally? Why or why not? Personal relevance is an essential component of learning. This question encourages participants to consider their own thoughts and feelings related to the exercise, which can deepen their understanding of themselves and others.
  4. How can we support each other in overcoming our fears? This question promotes a sense of community and shared responsibility for supporting one another’s growth. It also helps participants connect the exercise to practical action steps they can take to build a stronger team.
  5. What commonalities did you notice among the fears that were shared? Identifying shared concerns or challenges can help build group cohesion and foster empathy. This question encourages participants to look for patterns and connections in their experiences, which can promote deeper understanding and connection.
  6. How might this activity relate to our team’s goals or values? Connecting the exercise to broader goals or values helps participants see how it fits into a larger context. It also encourages them to think about how they can apply what they learned in the exercise to their work as a team.

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About the author

Jon Zajac

Jon Zajac

Founder & Chief Icebreaker

I started Icebreaker Spot because I truly believe that strong connections are the foundation of successful teams. I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy for people to find and share icebreakers and team building activities, empowering them to build trust, foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve greatness together.

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