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Next time your male coworker walks into a meeting and wants to get straight to business, you might want to tell him to rethink his strategy.

Next time your male coworker walks into a meeting and wants to get straight to business, you might want to tell him to rethink his strategy.
Fortune Magazine
By Caroline Fairchild
Published: August 5, 2014
>> Next time your male coworker walks into a meeting and wants to get straight to business, you might want to tell him to rethink his strategy.

Engaging in just a little small talk before negotiations can give men a significant leg up, according to a study to be presented this week at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management. While women are by no means penalized for engaging in the same form of chitchat, men profit a great deal from doing the same. 

"With men, because we are more expecting them to be focused on the

outcome, we are pleasantly surprised when they engage in small talk and invest in the personal relationship, so they get the boost," says study author Brooke Shaughnessy, a professor at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. 

Women do not receive nearly as much of an advantage from engaging in the same type of light discussion simply because it already is expected of them, study co-author and assistant professor at American University Alexandra Mislin adds. In fact, small talk neither helps nor hurts women. As long as women do not speak too "forcefully or rigidly" in negotiations, the researchers found that small talk does little to influence the outcome of a negotiation for women. 

It's interesting to note that while women can be  penalized for behaving in traditionally masculine ways, the exact opposite effect appears to take place when men act stereotypically feminine in the boardroom. A similar conclusion could be drawn from a recent study that found while  women are penalized for promoting women, men actually get a bump up in performance reviews for doing the same.  

Mislin added that a lot of men can brush off small talk as unimportant, but her research suggests that they can get a significant boost from something that takes little effort. 

Women likely could get a similar boost from engaging in another communication skill, but Mislin and others have yet to discover exactly what that is. For now, we can rule out acting more masculine.  

What do you think about small talk during negotiations? Email me at caroline.fairchild@fortune.com

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