Small Talk vs. Business Talk

Recently, I was coaching a lawyer who would soon have a meeting with an organization to potentially perform legal work. As we discussed the meeting, he let me know that his intention was to start by asking directly about the case.

My instinct felt the opposite. He needed to employ some strategic small talk first, then get into business talk. We needed a plan for the first few minutes of this meeting.

Upon further examination, we realized this was a sensitive matter that involved other executives and other circumstances that needed to be vetted. Adding to the complexity, he was brought into the case by a close friend connected to the matter.

Taking all this into account I recommended we outline some initial small talk questions that he ask before discussing the case. Not idle chit-chat but also, not diving headfirst into the case details without setting a tone for the meeting. If you’ve worked with me, you know that I always recommend that you get your “audience” talking first. Give them an opportunity to say what’s on their mind right at that moment. So, that’s what we set out to do.

Small Talk with a Purpose

Small talk is magic when it’s done for a reason. Always think about your small talk before saying it. As in the example below, the people my client was meeting were strangers to him. Can you imagine if all he did at the start of the conversation is credential himself or go straight to the legal matter they wanted to interview him about?

You got it…WAY too abrupt and way too selfish. It’s like meeting someone at a cocktail party and ONLY talking about yourself.

In our session, we engineered some key questions that would help him shape the conversation while also establishing a rapport up front that would help him gain their trust throughout the rest of the meeting. Here is what we outlined:

Thank you for this consideration. I’m excited to speak about it today. 

How did you come to meet Bob (the friend who set the meeting)?

What did Bob say about how I might help?

What’s important to YOU with this matter?

How has it affected you and your organization?

What has been its impact?

How was the matter discovered?

How long ago was this?

What’s important to you with the type of relationship that might ensue with us?

What do you look for in a legal partner?

Small Talk Leads to Perspective

My client paused once we completed our session and commented that he would never have choreographed the meeting this way had we not spoken about it. He commented that small talk was not his forte.

I said that it was important for him to understand the case from each person’s perspective. Each of them was likely impacted by it differently and he needed to discover what those impacts were.

This initial small talk I put forth would credential him as someone who was approachable and someone who was able to affirm the people he was doing business with from his relational approach.

As he discussed the outcome of the call, he was quite gratified by the approach we crafted and shared that the case looks very good for him.

The moral of the story is that small talk is as important as business talk if you use it situationally to illustrate your ability to be adaptive and receptive before you solve anything. Again, it’s the magic of getting the client to talk about themselves first! Once they have given you a clear picture of their goals, they feel affirmed through your conversation. Then and ONLY then can you delve into the matter and make your recommendations.