Small TalkIt’s generally a good idea to engage in small talk with the party you’ll be negotiating with. It helps break the ice and “humanize” the other party that could lead to some empathy that could help resolve the dispute between you.

Professor Janice Nadler of Northwestern University in Boston, according to the Harvard Program on Negotiations, determined that strangers who had a casual five-minute phone call prior to negotiating via e-mail were four times more likely to reach a beneficial agreement compared to pairs who didn’t have a chance to chat.

But’s it’s not all that black and white, according another research study that showed only men, not women, benefited from breaking the ice prior to engaging in negotiations. Participants read a transcript and evaluated a negotiator named either JoAnna or Andrew who either did or did not engage in small talk before negotiating with a business counterpart for control of a scarce resource.

  • Andrew was judged to be more likeable when he engaged in small talk before negotiating than when he did not.
  • The Andrew’s idle chatter also was rewarded with better final offers from participants compared to all-business Andrew.
  • JoAnna was judged the same whether or not she chatted informally with her counterpart and on a par with the less sociable Andrew who didn’t make small talk.
  • Chatty Andrew was the clear winner.

The authors explain the results on gender stereotypes and expectations.

  • Because men are generally seen as less sociable and concerned about others compared to women, men who buck the stereotype with small and unexpected communal behaviors, like making small talk, may be rewarded in negotiation.
  • Because women are generally expected to behave communally, observers may not punish them for the minor violation of a gender stereotype (not shooting the breeze before negotiating), according to the authors.
  • Women may need “other ways than small talk to cultivate a positive regard in their counterparts,” says study stated one co-author.

Female negotiators who chit chat shouldn’t change their style just because of this one study. In the real world, idle conversation can lead to things we have in common which build bonds for male and female negotiators alike. There’s no guarantee the little time and effort to socialize with the other party will help achieve results, but for all negotiators, men and women, it’s still worth a try.