Successful negotiations require building rapport and exchanging information and proposals between the parties.  Though the parties may have conflicting interests, they’re working together to try to come to an agreement.  In negotiations involving a highly charged issue, and/or antagonistic parties, one party may be tempted to demonize the other. Open communication will be needed to break down these walls and help humanize the other guy.

Small-TalkA small way to start making substantial progress is through small talk.  Get to know the other negotiator, and if possible, the other party. Here are some suggestions to help make that happen:

  • Be comfortable with yourself and others. If you are not comfortable with who you are, you may just remain timid and keep to yourself. The next step is feeling comfortable when you are with other people.
  • Like any skill, practice makes perfect. If you’re not naturally chatty, practice. You meet all kinds of people you could have conversations with, if you tried. Start somewhere with someone if you want to develop those ‘rusty’ conversational skills.
  • Broaden your knowledge of a wide range of topics. You can only talk about the weather so much. To move on to something more, broaden your knowledge of a wide range of topics. It is easier to kick off the small talk if you have knowledge in a multitude of topics that will interest others.
  • Ask questions and listen.
  • Making small talk doesn’t mean you’re the only one who’s talking. A good conversation is a two-way street. Be polite enough to express interest in what the other person has to say. Listen for clues for what seems to be of interest to that person.  The conversation might move on to something even more interesting from there,
  • Asking questions (especially open ended questions that won’t result in a yes or no answer) is an important part of making small talk, gives the person an excuse to continue chatting with you, which can break the ice and get rid of any awkwardness, and
  • “Why?” is a great question to ask.  Where, when and how are fairly black and white and will only get so much of a response.  Why is a question that can reveal something about a person’s motivations, likes or dislikes, fill in some color to what you’re learning about the other person.
  • Make the other person feel as comfortable as possible. If you have no idea about what you should talk about, choose neutral and general points of interest.
  • Keep things short and casual.

The key to great conversations is to relax. Let the conversation flow naturally. That’s easiest to do when you’re fully engaged and genuinely interested in the conversation topic and the person with whom you are talking. Don’t think you must say something brilliant. Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered.

In your next negotiations, when you have some down time, small talk your time away.  You may build a connection and develop a rapport that will yield benefits for you and your client.
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