by Bea Larsen

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Larsen is a Senior Mediator at the Center for the Resolution of Disputes. She is the Co-Founder of Beyond Civility.

You’ve decided to become politically active and persuade others to join in a cause for your community, or a broader partisan effort. But you are one who abhors the waste of time and boredom of idle chitchat. For the introvert, the news is not good.

Professor Janice Nadler, on the law school faculty at Northwestern University conducted an experiment with graduate management students. Each was paired with another student at a distant school to take part in a negotiation simulation by e-mail. All participants were given a name, contact information and a set of facts presenting a complex problem to be worked out over a three-day period. Half of the group at each school was told to conduct a brief (no more than five minute) phone conversation on the day before the effort to reach agreement was to begin. In this preliminary call, they were not to refer to the facts of the problem in any way, but simply engage in small talk, get minimally acquainted, perhaps chat about their respective schools, cities, family, even the weather, but nothing particularly purposeful.

Data was later collected from both groups on the settlement success rate of those who had these insignificant friendly exchanges the day before and those who had not. The rate of beneficial agreements was four times higher in the small talk group than those pairs that had no such brief conversation in advance!

So, fellow introverts, we must learn to schmooze, or lose. (But, we can keep it brief.)

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