A few years ago I got a great sales tip from one of the executives of the Institute of Independent Business. We were discussing breaking the ice when at a sales meeting with a business owner you have not met before. His advice was to ask them their story about how they started the business. I have to say that it has worked like a charm and I am always interested in the answers.
I have adapted this for executives and managers in companies. I ask them whether they have been working in the company for long and how they came to be working there. It also really helps to relax the conversation.
I find that people love to talk about themselves and rarely get the opportunity. Give them the treat, take an interest in what is said, and you will find any ice quickly melts away!