Some people view small-talking women as Chatty Cathy’s and dismiss them. For some people, small talk can be one of the most difficult things to master in any setting, bringing on fear-induced sweats. Since initial small talk comes from first-time meetings, these situations can make people seem short, uninterested or unapproachable. Often it’s because people don’t know how to act in certain situations.
Through the years, I’ve met people who come across as cold and distant and others who share far more information than is deemed as small talk.
I began pondering the differences after reading a Wall Street Journal blog about a recent study on small talk in men and women in a business negotiation setting. The study and paper by co-authors at the University of Munich, American University’s Kogod School of Business and Technical University of Munich accumulated reactions from more than 170 individuals to transcripts of a negotiation scenario. Those involved read one of four different scenarios: a male negotiator who used small talk before starting the negotiation, a female negotiator who also used small talk and, lastly, transcripts where the negotiators began proceedings without chit-chat. The results were slightly unexpected, with men being more favored to gain the business or receive more from the other party.
The new study reminds me of a 2003 experiment that Sheryl Sandberg references in her book Lean In, regarding Heidi/Howard. A professor at Columbia Business School and one at New York University used a case study about a successful female (Heidi) venture capitalist. The professors changed the name between Heidi and Howard for the different groups and polled their students’ impressions of either persona. Based on the 2003 results, more people found Howard likable than Heidi. We see a similar situation with the current study.
Why is there such a discrepancy between genders when it comes to being assertive or even carrying on a conversation? Usually, I find that women have an easier time with small talk than men because women seem to be more eager to find common ground and relate to a person in order to create a more solid relationship. I urge women to continue to chat, and I urge men to engage, as well, because when men do it, it’s unexpected. Continue to seek and find the balance that allows for both men and women to succeed.
Jonathan Cronstedt is the CEO of Empower Network, an affiliate marketing, software and leadership training company. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @thejcron.