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Small Talk Pays Off for Male Negotiators

Small Talk Pays Off for Male Negotiators
By Chad Brooks
Published: August 4, 2014
>> Small Talk Pays Off for Male Negotiators

Striking up a little casual conversation before negotiating pays off for men, but not for women, new research suggests.

Men who engage in small talk before getting down to negotiations -- compared with those who launch right into it -- not only make a much more favorable impression, but also get better results, according to research to be presented during this week's annual meeting of the Academy of Management.

On the flipside, women negotiators gain little, if anything, from such chitchat"Engaging in small talk enhanced perceptions of communality, liking and satisfaction with the relationship in men but not women," the  study's authors wrote. "Men benefited from using small talk by receiving more favorable final offers when they engaged in small talk than when they did not."

The researchers said the findings come as a surprise, because previous research found small talk to be a plus for all  negotiators, not just men, since it was seen as a means of conveying an impression of benevolence, trustworthiness and cooperativeness, as well as minimizing the likelihood of an impasse.

Alexandra A. Mislin, one of the study's authors and a  professor at American University, said despite the findings, women shouldn't shun small talk altogether.

"Nothing we found suggests that it does any harm, and maybe women just have to do it better than men," Mislin said in a statement. "For men, the principal message of this study is clear: you've got more to gain from a small  investment in chitchat than you may realize."

Researchers found that differing  stereotypes and the expectations that derive from them are the reasons for the gender disparities.

"As compared to women, men are described as less communal, and, thus, for example, as less communicative, sociable, or concerned about others." the study's authors wrote. "Because for men communality is not assumed, they may  profit a great deal from showing communal behaviors."

The results were based on an experiment involving 202 individuals from an online community where people participate in  studies in return for small monetary compensation. As part of the experiment, subjects were asked to read a transcript and evaluate a negotiator named either JoAnna or Andrew who did or did not engage in small talk at the beginning of a negotiation.

After reading the transcripts the subjects responded to a series of statements about JoAnna and Andrew on the extent of their cooperativeness and willingness to compromise, as well as their likability. The researchers found that JoAnna was rated roughly equal in terms of communality and likability regardless of whether or not she engaged in small talk. However, Andrew was rated significantly higher in both when he started off with some small talk than when he didn't.

In a further test, the researchers asked participants a hypothetical question regarding how much they would pay for a parcel of land, which was being sold by JoAnna or Andrew. For JoAnna, the amounts subjects came up with were not statistically significant -- $10,090 if she had engaged in small talk and $10,195 if she had not.

For Andrew, however, the amounts were significantly different when he started off with small talk. The offer averaged $10,243 if he had gotten right down to  business and $10,872 if he had chitchatted.

"The bottom line for male negotiators is that small talk not only makes a good impression but can result in a nice  cash bonus," said Brooke Shaughnessy, one of the study's authors, from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Germany. "For women, negotiations will always be socially risky, and it appears they need to find other ways than small talk to cultivate a positive regard in their counterparts."

The study was also co-authored by Tanja Hentschel and Claudia Peus of Technische Universität München in Germany.

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