A negotiating tactic to get people to agree with you rapidly is to share a plate with them. You should share a plate with whomever you are negotiating before making your opening bid, say researchers. When people share a plate rather than just a meal, they collaborate better and reach deals more quickly. This is what researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Cornell University found.
The researchers, Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, wrote about their study and findings in the journal Psychological Science (citation below).
Fishbach is a Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at Chicago Booth. Woolley, an Assistant Professor at Cornell University, was a PhD student at Chicago Booth during the study.
The researchers wanted to find out more about sharing a meal as a negotiating tactic. Specifically, they wanted to determine whether the way a meal is served and consumed might improve cooperation.
In Chinese culture, sharing a meal is customary. It is also common in Indian and many other cultures. When people are sharing a meal, specifically, sharing plates, they have to coordinate their physical actions. Might that also prompt them to coordinate their negotiations?
A meal as a negotiating tactic – the study
The researchers asked study participants to pair off in a laboratory experiment. The experiment involved negotiating with another person. None of the participants knew each other.
The researchers invited the participants to have a snack of chips and salsa with their participating partner. There were two groups:
- Each pair of participants shared one bowl of chips and one bowl of salsa.
- Each participant got his or her own bowls.
The researchers then randomly assigned one person in each pair to act as a union representative. The other person had to act as management.
They had to aim for an acceptable wage for the union. The two negotiators had to do this within twenty-two rounds of negotiation. One day of negotiations represented one round. On the third round, a costly union strike was scheduled to begin.
For both negotiators, the costs of the strike accrued rapidly. Therefore, both had an impetus to reach a mutually agreeable deal as quickly as possible.
Bowl sharers reached a deal faster
The pairs who shared their bowls of chips and salsa took, on average, nine strike days to come to a deal. The pairs that did not share their bowls, on the other hand, took four days longer.
The researchers wrote that this phenomenon had nothing to do with how the participants felt about each other. Rather, what appeared to matter was how well they both coordinated their eating.
Does this negotiating tactic work with both friends and strangers?
The researchers then repeated the experiment with both strangers and friends taking part. Friends reached mutual agreement faster than their counterparts who did not know each other. Even so, sharing bowls had a significant effect on both groups.
In a press release, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business wrote:
“The degree to which a person felt she was collaborating with her partner while eating – sharing food rather than competing for that last bite – predicted her feelings of collaboration during the negotiation phase.”
Technology today allows us to conduct meetings remotely. However, there is value in meeting face-to-face over a meal, Prof. Fishbach said. The same is also true outside of business negotiations.
Prof. Fishbach said:
“Basically, every meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone. And every meal that involves food sharing fully utilizes the opportunity to create that social bond.”
So remember, next time you have to reach a deal or agreement with somebody, try the shared plate negotiating tactic.
The article does not yet appear in the journal Psychological Science. It is currently registered at the Center for Open Science (below).
Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2018, October 30). “Shared Plates, Shared Minds: Consuming from a Shared Plate Promotes Cooperation.” Retrieved from osf.io/7tssz.