Depending on your point of view, small talk can be the glue that holds our social networks together, or it can be the very bane of your life. What is harder to dispute however is its key place in our daily social interactions.
The popular perception is that small talk, and indeed conversation generally, is something that women thrive at much more than men do. There have been numerous studies highlighting the significantly higher number of words spoken by the average woman each day compared to their male counterpart.
Alas, a recent study suggests that it isn’t women that benefit most from small talk, but rather us men.
The research focused on negotiation environments and wanted to test whether engaging in small talk prior to getting down to the nitty gritty would enhance the prospects of securing a good deal or not. The study found that such a tactic undoubtedly worked, just only for the men.
“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 study asked participants to analyse the transcript of a series of negotiation scenarios. Some contained a male negotiator who began proceedings with some small talk with their opponent, before then entering into negotiation about a plot of land they were interested in. Another scenario involved a female negotiator who used the same tactic, whilst others involved male or female negotiators who preferred to get straight down to business.
The participants were asked to rate each negotiator on traits such as trust, overall impressions, foundations for a future relationship and so on. It emerged that men who engaged in small talk scored highly on all of these things, and much higher than men who did not do that. What’s more, this transferred into much higher offers. It emerged that participants would pay the small talking men 8% more than they would to women who used the same tactic.
"Small talking men would earn 8% more in negotiations than small talking women
In hard financial terms, this ’earned’ the men around $800 more than their female peers. Indeed, when women engaged in small talk, it actually cost them $100, as they received lower offers than when they did not engage in small talk at all.
Why was this? Well, the researchers suggested that it was largely because women come with the expectation of being more social to begin with. Thus the small talk that began the relationship was more of a surprise in the men, which led to higher offers being given to them.
"There’s an expectation for women to be more communal,” the researchers said. “There’s no surprise factor there.”
When men small talk, it’s unexpected and has a big impact. Women, on the other hand, have to go “above and beyond the small talk,” they continued.