If you’re a guy, making a few comments about the weather before you start a negotiation might result in a more favourable deal than getting right down to business. But if you’re a woman, not so much.
According to a new report, small talk increases the perception of cooperativeness and likability of a male negotiator but has no effect for female negotiators.
The reason, researchers say, is because of the persistence of long-standing gender stereotypes. Going into a negotiation, men are traditionally seen as aggressive and confrontational, while women are traditionally seen as communal and more willing to cooperate.
So when a man starts a deal with some lighthearted banter and a smile, the other party may be surprised and more likely to lower their guard. When a woman begins dealmaking in the same way, she’s seen as behaving according to expectations. And if she skips the small talk, the other party barely notices.
In an online experiment, researchers worked with 176 paid participants from across the U.S. One of the study authors, Alexandra Mislin of American University, tells us that the average age of the participants was 35 and that 52% were female.
The participants were presented with a version of a fictional negotiation transcript between two town officials negotiating the purchase of a plot of land. The target negotiator was assigned the name JoAnn or Andrew, and either initiated the conversation with a few lines of friendly chatter unrelated to the negotiation or the straightforward, “Shall we get right down to business?” The other negotiator’s gender was undefined.
After reading, the participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1-5 the communality (cooperativeness and willingness to compromise) and likability of the target negotiator. Small talk had almost no effect on JoAnn’s communality (average of 3.22 versus 3.02) or likability (3.43 versus 3.27) but had a significant effect on Andrew’s agreeableness. With small talk, Andrew’s communality score was 4.81 versus 3.21 and his likability score was 3.82 versus 3.27.
For a final question, participants were given a scenario in which they imagined they were the person negotiating opposite JoAnn or Andrew, and that after hours of discussion, they agreed that the other person would pay them $US10,000 for the plot of land. The participant was to then imagine that their boss told them that they were expecting to pay $US15,000. In that case, would they pay JoAnn or Andrew any more?
Once again, there was a negligible effect regarding small talk for JoAnn. If she chatted, she’d make an average of $US10,090, and if she didn’t, she’d make $US10,195.
But if Andrew chatted, he’d make an average of $US10,872 versus $US10,243 had he not.
Mislin concludes: “It isn’t as if women ought to shun small talk: Nothing we found suggests that it does any harm, and maybe women just have to do it better than men. For men, the principal message of this study is clear: You’ve got more to gain from a small investment in chit-chat than you may realise.”
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