Ah, summer readin'... reading so relaxed you have to drop the "g." I just finished reading a great Tutor's Column in the March 2008 issue of The Writing Lab Newsletter. The article, written by Emily Plummer, discusses the importance of making "small talk" in a tutoring session. She brings up some insightful points that illustrate the positive benefits of small talk, not the least of which is using small talk to make a writer feel more comfortable, as well as establishing a rapport with the writer.
When I first started doing consultations, I didn't engage in much small talk. Engaging in the rhythms of small talk has never been easy for me. I'm too self-conscious. My feeble attempts (How bout this weather, huh?) sound forced because they are forced. Being a newbie, I was hyper-aware of everything I was doing in a consultation--to my own detriment. After a few months of doing consultations, however, I found myself becoming more comfortable with the entire process of consulting. I felt more relaxed, which, in turn, allowed me to turn the focus off of myself and the process, and more to where it belonged: the writer. It was then it really hit me: a little bit of small talk goes a long ways.
I don't know the percentage, but for a good chunk o' people (how's that for statistically exact?) who visit the writing center are doing so for the first time. There's a good chance they could be nervous, or possibly uncertain about the Writing Center Experience. A few small words, even if they do sound socially perfunctory, allows the writer to ease into the session. "How ya doin'? How's your semester going? Did you see last night's 'So You Think You Can Dance?" These types of questions (okay, maybe the last one is too much) can be integral in establishing rapport.
Being somewhat socially awkward, I was surprised at how a simple bit of small talk could help make a session smoother. In fact, I know feel like small talk is an essential component of a successful consultation.
My questions to my fellow bloggers: Is small talk a necessary part of your consultations? Or is it extraneous?