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Victoria Pynchon

As the co-founder of She Negotiates Consulting and Training, I offer my services as a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant....

She Mediates

ADR Services, Inc.

She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

Settling Lawsuits, Making Business Deals, Developing Business and Small Talk

Jack Welch shares a golf-cart with former President Bill Clinton 

We've mentioned the benefits of small talk for settling lawsuits before. 

In a recent post entitled What Am I Supposed to Know About  (thanks to mediator blah blah for directing our attention there) professional firm management guru David Maister, praises the marketing value of small talk.  In this post, he suggests that we might  want to be conversant with the following topics to hold up our end of a conversation at a dinner party or on the golf links with potential clients. 

  • Local politics
  • National Politics
  • International affairs not directly involving your own country
  • The latest tech gadgets
  • The latest fiction best-sellers
  • The latest non-fiction best-sellers
  • What’s hot on television
  • The latest art exhibition to open in your town
  • The popular music charts
  • Yo-yo Ma’s latest album
  • What’s good on Broadway this season
  • The latest movies
  • Local sports teams
  • Sports events not involving local teams
  • Latest theories of child-rearing

I'm tired already.  It's hard enough to keep up with what actually interests me let alone with what doesn't interest me in the least.  

Does that mean that my more eclectically knowledgeable mediator peers will be better able to settle lawsuits and develop business?  I don't think so.  Why?   Because they're really just not that into you. 

So here's the super-secret intergalactic decoder-ring mystery of small talk revealed.  Ready?  


You don't need to know anything about sports, local politics, literature, brain surgery, travel in Cambodia, statistical analysis, Islam, the movies, Anna Nicole Smith or the British monarchy.

In fact, the LESS you know, the better.


Because the less you know, the more interest you'll take in your fellows.  Show an interest in what your clients, potential clients and negotiating partners are interested in and you will make friends for life.

Eventually, these people will get around to asking what it is that you do, thinking it must be something pretty wonderful because you're one of the few people who appear to be smart and forward-looking enough to be so deeply interested in how fascinating they are. 

I tell students to whom I teach the art of taking pre-trial testimony, that this is the same principle as the one you use to pick up men in bars -- a talent I have not used in at least 20 years, having turned this dark art into a power for the good.

As we've previously noted, small talk settles lawsuits and greases the wheels of commerce.

The lawyer who gets credit for that new case from the Fortune 50 company is not alas, the lawyer doing the actual work.  It's the lawyer with the monthly golf date with general counsel or the CEO. And what that lawyer talks about on the links is not what she knows about the principle products of Paraguay or any other topic of general or specific interest.  What she talks about is whatever is of current interest in the GC or the CEO.

And the only way to know that, is to take a genuine interest in others and ask a lot of questions.

Comments (2)

Read through and enter the discussion by using the form at the end
David Maister - March 1, 2007 10:14 PM

I agree with the conclusions here but, to be precise, I wasn't "praising the marketing value of small talk." I wasn't even talking about work or business at all. My question was about what range of things anyone might be expected to be conversant with, and how that might "position" you (or get you labelled)in society.

Vickie - March 1, 2007 11:28 PM

Thanks for dropping by the site David. The fact that you weren't talking about marketing just goes to show how obsessed I am with the topic these days.

I think we're probably talking about the same thing from a different angle. I'm riffing on your post by suggesting that one of the easiest ways to acquire the necessary knowledge is to ask the person sitting next to you at the dinner table what she/he's interested in. If the hostess has done her job, you should be sitting next to someone compatible but eye-opening.

Thanks for the post and the comment!

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