Small talk – Does it always pay big dividends at the IRS?

Three adult women having coffee while having a pleasant conversation in a coffee shop booth

A great negotiation often has four parts related to building relationships, listening for understanding, educating for enlightening and negotiating winning solutions. However, the question remains how much small talk is necessary to build the relationship and is it really necessary?

That is the focus on this article.

Small talk

Small talk – what is it? When you say “hello” and ask “how are you?” that is typically just a greeting. Other times we generally care and you could be very concerned. How we ask the question, how well we know the person and our real intentions all tie into that greeting. Now think of our greeting and our initial building of a relationship with a third party related to a negotiation. It all depends on the context and the person, the location and the purpose of the interaction.

Experiences and expectations

When working with the IRS most tax preparers have some experience and their experiences have influenced their expectations. The taxpayer’s representative brings those experiences with them to the initial meeting with the IRS. The IRS representative also has experiences and expectations. With 13 different divisions and major geographic differences there are many different cultures within the IRS, but in the end it all boil down to the individual.

Myers Briggs commentary

The most common Myers Briggs personality type for managers at the IRS is INTJ. The” I” is for introvert. The “N” stands for intuitive. The “T” is for thinking. The “J” is for judging. Again, this is the most common personality type, but that does not mean the person you may be interacting with is an INTJ. However, if this is the case, the person likely would appreciate minimal, but some small talk. The individual would likely prefer a genuine interest in working with the IRS professionally and trying to build trust would likely be appreciated. Being professional, positive and asking if the person would be willing to share information in an attempt to build trust may provide insight into the level of interaction with the first meeting.

Greater dialogue sometimes

Others may genuinely prefer great dialogue and to have more of an interest in building a stronger relationship with increased dialogue. By asking some open-ended questions up front it may be possible to determine the level of interest the IRS representative has in building a relationship initially. Keep in mind this may change with time when getting to know the individual and be prepared to adapt depending on interests.

Consider some open-ended questions

  • What would you like to have happen?
  • What do you hope to accomplish?
  • What concerns do you have?
  • What can I do to help you with your concerns?

Consider all senses

Addressing all of the senses with an offering of coffee or water, appropriate snacks, a pleasant and professional interaction, active listening and appropriate touch go a long way towards building a positive relationship. If providing quarters for an auditor is a concern, discuss this at the beginning. Work collaboratively to address the needs and interests of both parties. By being transparent and sharing concerns it should be possible to address this issue.

One last point

Keep in mind that even if you do not initiate small talk at the beginning of a negotiation, keep in mind this may be very useful later in a negotiation. Making connections by tying in personal experiences with what you may have in common can go a long way towards developing a good relationship. As an example, recently a client of mine indicated that during a negotiation with the IRS was bogged down. The client indicated that she had to go to a social engagement with her husband later that week that she really did not want to attend, but that she wanted to make sure she met her husband’s needs too. The IRS representative indicated he could relate to the situation too. That simple sharing of that situation allowed the parties to work together to address the negotiation. Up to that point the negotiation had been bogged down. After that point the negotiation opened up and the parties were able to reach an agreement in a relatively short period of time.

Contact Mike Gregory to speak to your group or consult with you. Check out his website, books and helpful content in the About section of his web page. Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA and a Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court, is an international speaker that helps others resolve conflict, negotiate winning solutions and inspire leaders. Mike services clients business to IRS, business to business and within businesses. Mike may be contacted directly at or at (651) 633-5311. 

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]