The Power Of A Good Chat In A Negotiation

Discussions can be the key to a successful negotiation
Discussions can be the key to a successful negotiation
Image Credit: Shuaib Yazdani

Negotiators need to know how important body language is in the negotiation process. We are often advised to engage in small talk before getting down to business. The reason that we’re told to do this is because according to negotiation research, it pays to engage with your counterpart at the negotiation table. However, where things can get a bit strange is when we realize that whether it benefits a negotiator or not might depend on the negotiator’s gender.

The Power Of Gender When It Come To Chats

Research has shown that that pairs of strangers who engaged in a casual five-minute phone chat before participating in a negotiation simulation via e-mail were four times more likely to reach a beneficial agreement than pairs who didn’t have a chance to chat. However, more recent studies are saying that only men—and not women—received positive results from chit-chatting with their counterparts.

In the negotiation study participants read a transcript and evaluated a negotiator named either Anna or John who either did or did not engage in small talk—about local restaurants and a hometown sports team—before negotiating with a business counterpart for control of a scarce resource. Participants judged John to be more communal and likable when he engaged in small talk before negotiating than when he did not, and the chit-chatting John also was rewarded with better final offers from participants than was the all-business John. Anna, on the other hand, was judged the same whether or not she chatted informally with her counterpart, and on a par with the John who didn’t make small talk. Chatty John was the clear winner.

How To Deal With Gender Stereotypes In Negotiations

Negotiators need to understand that gender stereotypes and expectations likely explain the results. The reason is because men are generally viewed as less communal, sociable, and concerned about others than women, men who buck the stereotype with small and unexpected communal behaviors, like making small talk, may be rewarded in negotiation. It is important for negotiators to realize that men may be penalized for more significant non-stereotypical behavior, such as staying home with their children.

At the same time, because we tend to expect women to behave communally, we may not punish them for the minor violation of a gender stereotype—electing not to shoot the breeze before negotiating. Women may need to find other ways than small talk to cultivate a positive regard in their counterparts. This doesn’t mean that women should assume they have carte blanche to skip the chit-chat. As negotiators know, in the real world, idle conversation about the weather, sports, and so on can lead to discoveries of commonalities and connection that build bonds for male and female negotiators alike.

What All Of This Means For You

The reason that we take the time to engage in a negotiation is because we want to find a way to reach a deal with the other side. We are always looking for ways to become more successful in our negotiations. It turns out that one powerful technique that we can use is to hold a discussion with the other side before the negotiations start. However, our gender can play a big role in determining if this is going to help us out.

Research has been done that shows that when negotiators take the time to have a short discussion with the other side prior to the start of a negotiation, it can have a powerful impact on the outcome of the negotiations. Additional research has gone on to show that this impact may only apply to men and not women. Gender stereotypes and expectations likely explain these results. Men are expected to be more cold and distant and when they engage in a conversation this makes them more attractive to the other side. Women are expected to be more outgoing and so their conversation does not have the same impact.

These studies show that having a discussion with the other side before a negotiation starts can be a powerful tool that can help us to get the deal that we are looking for. Although it may benefit a man more than a woman, everyone can benefit from making this investment in time and effort. Prior to your next negotiation, set aside some time to chat with the other side and see if this can help your negotiation proceed more smoothly.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Do you think having multiple chats with the other side before a negotiation would help or is one enough?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s face it – negotiating is not an easy thing to do. If you want to make it even harder, then instead of just negotiating with one party, invite multiple parties to the same negotiation. When this kind of negotiation is going on, turf battles – heated conflicts over territory, control, rights, or power -are all too common. It is possible for a turf battle to arise over any type of scarce resource in a group negotiation. When anticipating a group negotiation, we tend to view the other groups as inferior to our group on many dimensions, including intelligence, competence, and trustworthiness. How should a negotiator handle situations like this?