Need a boost to persuasion power at your next big meeting? Try changing the setting to someplace less plate-y.

Breakfast.

Image via Pixabay.

Business negotiations go more smoothly and take less time when participants share a plate, not just a meal, new research reveals. Shared plates are customary in Chinese and Indian cultures (among others), and people sharing a plate are able to collaborate better and reach deals faster, the study explains.

Breaking Bread

Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Wooley, a Professor at the University of Chicago and PhD student Cornell University, respectively, say a family-style meal with a prospective business partner can help the deal go through smoothly.

The duo asked a group of participants (all strangers to one another) to pair off in a lab experiment regarding negotiation patterns. Before the experiments began, participants were invited to have a snack of chips and salsa with their partners. Half of the pairs received one bowl of chips and one bowl of salsa to share, while the others each had their own bowls.

After this light snack, the pairs were asked to simulate a negotiation between a member of management and a union representative. Their goal was to settle on an acceptable wage for workers of both parties in the span of 22 rounds of negotiations. To put a little bit of pressure on the hypothetical scenario, a “costly union strike” was scheduled to start on round three. Each party would incur costs from this strike which, the team hoped, would help coax the participants into reaching a deal as quickly as possible.

On average, participants that shared a bowl of snacks reached an agreement in nine strike days (i.e. in twelve turns). Their separate-bowl counterparts needed, on average, took four days longer to agree on their terms. In the team’s hypothetical scenario, these four extra days translated to an extra $1.5 million in combined losses.

What’s particularly interesting is that it didn’t much matter if the two parties liked one another — what mattered was whether or not they had coordinated their eating. This finding came from a repeat experiment carried out by Woolley and Fishbach, in which they had both friends and strangers participate. Both groups received pairs of both friends and strangers, and sharing plates had a significant effect in both cases.

The degree to which a person felt they were collaborating with their partner while eating — sharing food rather than competing for that last bite — predicted their feelings of collaboration during the negotiation phase, the team adds. Fischbach says that the results showcase the powerful effect a meal can have on interpersonal connections. Despite how convenient remote meetings can be, they simply don’t stack up to sharing a meal — and, he adds, this holds true for professional as well as personal relationships.

“Basically, every meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone,” says Fishbach. “And every meal that involves food sharing fully utilizes the opportunity to create that social bond.”

The paper ” Shared Plates, Shared Minds: Consuming from a Shared Plate Promotes Cooperation” has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

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