In my mediations, I make it a point to put out some Danish or cookies and fruit in each of the conference rooms (as  well as coffee and water.) I do this partially to help the parties maintain their blood sugar levels as grumpy people do not make good negotiators but also because sharing food tends to make people more cooperative. However, a recent article indicates I should have the parties share the food in the same room, together, “family style.”

A study by Kaitlin Woolley of Cornell University and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago found that serving food “‘…family style’ from a central platter can greatly improve the outcome of subsequent negotiations.” (“ Sharing a plate of Food leads to more successful Negotiations” , The Economist, March 14, 2019) .

For their first study, they recruited 100 pairs of participants who were all strangers and had each pair sit at a table with a bowl of tortilla chips with salsa.  Half of the pairs were given one bowl to share while the other half were given their own individual bowls. They were told to eat the snack before the game was to begin.

The “game” required each pair to negotiate an hourly wage rate during a fictional strike in which one of them represented management and the other, labor.

The researchers found that those who shared the bowl of chips and salsa resolved the fictitious dispute “significantly faster… than those who did not.” (Id.)

The researchers then conducted a similar experiment using Goldfish crackers and  found, once again, that sharing the same bowl of crackers led to faster resolutions. (Id.)

The researchers then wanted to see if friendship entered the equation at all and so they ran the original experiment using pairs of both friends and pairs of strangers.  Whether friend or stranger, they again found that sharing food made for a faster resolution of the make-believe wage dispute. They did find that friendship did make a difference; the friends were generally more cooperative. (Id.)

So—while it is a good idea to put food out in conference rooms, it seems to be an even better idea to somehow arrange a joint session in which all the parties and their counsel are sitting around the same table sharing food from the same plate. It will have the subliminal effect of creating greater cooperation and thus a greater chance  of success in resolving the matter.

…. Just something to think about.

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