Should We Eat While We Negotiate?

Will sharing a meal with the other side lead to a better deal?
Will sharing a meal with the other side lead to a better deal?
Image Credit: Thomas Wanhoff

So I’m willing to admit it – I like food. A lot. When we are getting ready to negotiate with someone, there is always the possibility of conducting our negotiations with all of their negotiation styles and negotiating techniques while sharing a meal with them. As tasty as this may seem, it does lead to a much bigger question. If we conduct our negotiations while eating, can it boost the possibility of our ability to reach a deal with the other side? It turns out that there are both advantages and downsides to eating while negotiating. Let’s take a look at both of them.

Should We Negotiate While Eating

Yumm – food! One of the advantages of conducting a negotiation over food is that most people view a restaurant as being neutral turf. It’s not your offices and it’s not the other side’s offices so nobody has an upper hand when it comes to the location where the negotiations will take place. You do need to be careful of one thing. If you choose where you’ll meet for the meal and it’s convenient for you and out of the way for the other side, then it will appear as though you are pulling a form of a power play. If you were going to be negotiating over limited resources, then doing something like this might be acceptable; however, you need to be careful because doing so could hold you back from finding additional opportunities to collaborate.

Does Food Allow Barriers To Come Down?

One of the biggest questions that negotiators want to find an answer to is if eating while negotiating breaks down barriers between negotiators? The good news is that there have been some experiments done on this topic. The experiments showed that 12% more deals were struck when negotiators ate together at a restaurant and 11% more deals were struck when negotiators ate together in a business conference room.

The researchers believe there may be some biological factors may be at play here. What seems to be happening is that when we eat, our glucose levels spike, which enhances the ways that our brain operates. What this means is that our self-control improves, and we’re less prejudiced and aggressive. Taking these physical changes into account, there’s a biological argument to be made for eating during, or at least before, negotiating with the other side.

Just to make things a little bit trickier, it turns out that the way in which food is served may matter as well. When the experiments were done, in some cases the pairs of negotiators were given food to share, such as chips and salsa. It was observed that when this was done, they were better at creating value during a negotiation simulation that was framed as a competition as compared to pairs who were given individual portions of food. What these results seem to show is that sharing food may foster much-needed cooperation among negotiators.

Should You Drink While Negotiating Over Food?

Finding an answer to the question of if we should be eating while negotiating starts to look fairly simple when you now start to look at another question that can quickly show up. Should we drink (alcohol) while we are negotiating with the other side? Let’s face it, if you’re trying to stay sharp, even mild buzz can create a host of barriers to creative deal making: simplistic thinking, strong emotions, overconfidence, and even aggressive behavior. Negotiators also have to realize that some of the people that we are negotiating with may be offended by the notion of consuming alcohol while doing business. If you do choose to drink during a negotiation, limit the time frame of your talks, and be sure food and water are also available.

Negotiators need to keep in mind that when negotiating in a public place, such as a restaurant, privacy can be a concern, especially in corporate negotiations. A discreet staff and a private dining room help keep sensitive conversations confidential. In general, though, if you want your talks to stay quiet, it’s probably best to meet in private – have your food brought in!

What All Of This Means For You

So what’s the bottom line? Negotiators need to realize that the relaxed, social atmosphere of a restaurant can help negotiators build rapport and even prompt conflict resolution success stories. However, there are pitfalls to such business principled negotiation solutions. Perhaps the best idea is to get to know one another over a friendly meal, move to an office when it’s time to discuss substance, and share another meal if talks get contentious.

Negotiators need to understand that everyone eats. In fact, everyone has to eat. If we can find a way to combine something that we all have to do and that we enjoy doing with the negotiations that are at hand, then we may have found a way to make our negotiations flow more smoothly. Even if the negotiations get rocky, there’s a very good chance that the other side won’t walk away if it means that they won’t get a chance to finish their meal. Good food can very easily lead to good deals.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that negotiations should be done over multi-course meals or just or a quick meal that you’ve grabbed?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The reason that a negotiation is necessary is because the other side has information that we don’t have. Likewise, we know things that the other side does not know and the purpose of a negotiation is to use your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to exchange enough information so that both sides can agree on a deal. Now this is where things start to get interesting. Just exactly how much information should we share with the other side? Do we tell them everything and hope to be rewarded for being so open with them? Do we hide everything so that we don’t accidentally reveal too much? This is a key question that every negotiator has to answer for themselves: during a negotiation what information do we need to keep secret?