Planning a business negotiation? Choose an Indian or Chinese restaurant, say scientists who have found that sharing plates during a meal—a custom in both cultures—can help people collaborate better.
Researchers from University of Chicago in the US said that since sharing plates—customary in Indian and Chinese cultures—require people to coordinate their physical actions, it might in turn prompt them to coordinate their negotiations.
To find out, they asked study participants, all strangers to one another, to pair off in a lab experiment that involved negotiating.
The 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.
Next came the negotiation scenario, in which one person in each pair was randomly assigned to act as management and the other as a union representative.
Their goal was to arrive at an acceptable wage for the union within 22 rounds of negotiation, with each round representing one day of negotiations, and with a costly union strike scheduled to start on the third round.
The costs of the strike accrued quickly for both sides, giving the parties an impetus to reach a mutually agreeable deal quickly.
Teams with shared bowls took nine strike days, on average, to reach a deal, four fewer than pairs that had eaten from separate bowls.
This difference translated into significant dollar values, saving both parties a combined, if hypothetical, USD 1.5 million in losses, according to the study pubished in the journal Psychological Science.
This phenomenon was unrelated to how two people in a negotiating team felt about each other. Rather, what mattered was how well they coordinated their eating.
While technology allows people to conduct meetings remotely, there is value in getting together over a meal. The same is true outside of business negotiations.