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Why eating at a Chinese restaurant can help you negotiate better

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It’s generally accepted that growing up with siblings can make you a better negotiator, but new research indicates that family-style eating can also reap similar rewards.

A new study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has revealed the benefits of sharing a family-style, or shared-plate, meal with your business counterparts when trying to negotiate a deal.

The research, published in Science Daily, found sharing a plate, rather than a meal leads to better collaboration, and helps business-people reach deals faster.

“Sharing plates is customary in Chinese and Indian cultures, among others. Because the custom requires people to coordinate their physical actions, it might in turn prompt them to coordinate their negotiations,” researchers Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Woolley hypothesised.

The experiment

The researchers asked study participants to pair off in a lab experiment that involved negotiating. One person pretended to be a management representative and the other a union representative, with a goal of reaching a solution within 22 rounds on negotiation. There was a hypothetical union strike scheduled for the third round of negotiation.

The participants had a snack of chips and salsa.

One half of the pairs received a bowl of chips and salsa to share, while the other half had their own bowls.

The results

Teams with shared bowls took nine rounds to reach a conclusion, while those with separate bowls took four rounds longer.

“This difference translated into significant dollar values, saving both parties a combined, if hypothetical, $1.5 million in losses,” the research found.

And the results had less to do with how the people felt about each other, but how well they coordinated their eating.

They arrived at this finding by asking friends to negotiate. Naturally, friends arrived at a resolution faster. But sharing plates had a significant effect for both strangers and friends.

The message?

Fishbach said that while technology helps us conduct meetings remotely, the value of conducting an in-person meeting over a meal can’t be ignored.

“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 utilises the opportunity to create that social bond.”

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