In pre pandemic days when mediations were held in person, mediators often provided snacks and goodies for the parties to nibble on throughout the day. For good reason! To increase the odds of reaching a settlement.

A recent Harvard PONs blog post confirms that food plays a significant role in reaching a settlement. In her post entitled “In Business Negotiations, Eat Before You Negotiate”, Katie Shonk discusses new research by Cornell University professor Emily Zitek and Dartmouth College professor Alexander Jordan based on two experiments that “…undergraduate students felt a greater sense of entitlement when they were hungry than when they were not.” (Id.) “Entitlement” was defined as “… the sense that one is more deserving of positive outcomes than other people are.” (Id.)

In the first experiment, the researchers reached out to Cornell students as they were entering or leaving the dining hall. They asked each group a series of questions such as “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others” or “People like me deserve an extra break now and then.” (Id.)  Those who had not yet eaten, answered these questions positively. (Id.)

In a second experiment, some participants were placed in a lab room in which pizza was being cooked in a toaster oven so that the smell emanated throughout the room while another group was placed in a lab room without the smell of pizza. As noted, those in the room with the smell of pizza reported being hungrier than those in the other room. Importantly, the former group displayed a greater sense of entitlement.  (Id.)

How does this sense of entitlement relate to settling disputes? It makes it harder. The researchers found that those who were hungry and thus having a sense of entitlement behaved selfishly, had difficulty taking the perspective of the other and were more likely to be dishonest. (Id.)

In sum, when people are hungry, they tend to focus on their own needs. (See: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in which the lowest level is physiological). Thus, it will be difficult for them to focus on the needs and interests of others. Being hungry, they will convey a sense of entitlement, claiming more value than they otherwise might on a full stomach. (Id.)  The bargaining is thus distributive or positional (zero sum game) rather than integrative or win-win. As a result, the negotiations might just lead nowhere- except to a break for lunch.

Moral: never negotiate when hungry!

…. Just something to think about.



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