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Office Small Talk Helps Men — But Not Women, Study Finds

Office Small Talk Helps Men — But Not Women, Study Finds
The Wall Street Journal
By Rachel Feintzeig
Published: August 6, 2014
>> Office Small Talk Helps Men — But Not Women, Study Finds

A little chit-chat can go a long way - if you're a man.

A new study suggests that men benefit from beginning a business negotiation with small talk, but women do not.

It's not that female negotiators are "punished" for taking time to banter with the person across the table, according to author and University of Munich assistant professor Brooke A. Shaughnessy. But they're not perceived in a better light the way that men who chew the fat are - and they don't score a better deal.

"Men are getting a pretty big boost for very little effort," said Alexandra A. Mislin, another author and assistant professor at American University's Kogod School of Business. The paper's other co-authors are from the Technical University of Munich.

The experiment, detailed in a paper presented this week at the Academy of Management's annual, meeting gathered 176 individuals' reactions to a transcript of a negotiation scenario. Some individuals read through a transcript featuring a male negotiator who warmed up with small talk before launching into the negotiation about a plot of land; others were assigned to a female negotiator who chit-chatted. Some participants also read through transcripts where male and female negotiators got right to business.

Men who engaged in small talk were likely to get positive ratings on questions about trust, overall impressions and solid foundations for a future relationship, as compared to men who didn't engage in small talk. And participants put their money where their mouths' were. When it came down to final offers, they were willing to give the men who chit-chatted nearly 8% more than they offered women who engaged in small talk. Men who engaged in small talk were offered an average of nearly $10,900 while women who engaged in small talk were offered close to $10,100. Women who didn't engage in small talk received offers close to $10,200.

Why didn't the woman get any credit for shooting the breeze?  According to Mislin, chit-chat - which the paper also defines as "schmoozing," "rapport building," and "social lubrication"- is perceived as a communal act, a sort of social gift. But women are already assumed to be more communal and more interested in building relationships, while the male gender stereotype is more "outcome-focused," Shaughnessy said.

"There's an expectation for women to be more communal," Shaughnessy said. "There's no surprise factor there."

When men chit-chat, it's unexpected and has a big impact. Women, on the other hand, have to go "above and beyond the small talk," Shaughnessy said.

There's a chance women already are going above and beyond, compensating for the gender stereotypes by, for example, emphasizing how important their relationships are before they launch into a negotiation. The researchers hope to conduct further studies to figure out what women have to do to get the boost in negotiations that men get from small talk.

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