small talkSmall talk is not small or trivial. It’s a basic way to introduce ourselves to others, open lines of communication and can be a foundation upon which trust can be built. It’s a good way to start a negotiation or mediation session so you can “break the ice” with the other attorney or party.

“If you make connections with people, it makes it much more difficult for you to treat them in an uncivil way. If you think about being kind to and connecting with people, people you engage in conversation, you’re going to open a door for them, you’ll let them step in front of you in line. You’ll engage in more acts of kindness and fewer acts of rudeness,” Indiana University psychology professor and shyness expert Bernardo J. Carducci is quoted as saying in a recent article in Science Daily.

Small Talk Is Not So Small Afterall

Small talk is a skill. Like any skills, you need to practice to get better at it. Professor Carducci offers these suggestions:

  • He says to start small, with a simple greeting or compliment which can build into a conversation.
  • Try to be nice, not brilliant. You don’t need to be funny or witty.
  • A good way to practice is to talk to someone who’s alone and begin a conversation.
  • Have something to say. If you think you have nothing to say you may be self-conscious and self-critical. Carducci suggests “social reconnaissance” or making an effort to learn about current events, the local area and local issues in order to have something to talk about. Reading newspapers and catching up on major sporting news can be ways to “prime the pump.”
  • Rehearse your introduction. People want to know your name and something about you. Offer information that will help move the conversation along (what you do or how you know the people in the social situation). Think about it ahead of time.
  • Don’t be late. “If you walk in and everything is already buzzing, you’re already behind,” Carducci said. “Groups have already formed. If you get there on time, you’re greeting people and pacing the conversation. You bring the new people into the conversation — ‘I’m so and so, and this is A, B and C., and we were just talking about …”
  • Extend the conversation which evolves from one topic to another. Focus on the task at hand, the conversation.
  • Stop talking. Avoid dominating the conversation and stop periodically to give others a chance to change the topic. If people are interested in what you said, they’ll ask you questions.

Other ways to help with small talk is to take the focus off yourself and ask open ended questions of the person with you. For example, if someone says they work at a certain law firm, what brought them there? Why are they working in a particular area of law?

Small Talk Is A Critical Networking Skill

Being good at small talk can help you well beyond negotiations and mediations. It can be a critical skill in networking, helping you gain new clients, finding the right person to hire or finding the right person to hire you.

Negotiation and mediation are all about communicating, understanding the other party, talking about wants, needs and goals and how they can be met. Small talk is an important way to get the process started.