Serving Food at a Negotiation Meeting

Christine from United States asked:

"If you are trying to work out a deal, is serving food a good idea to do during the negotiations? My thought is that the sharing a meal together may make people more at ease and willing to hear each other."

A Negotiation Expert Answered:

The exact answer will be a 'that depends', as every decision about the environment and climate you create needs to take into account your context. I'm going to answer your question in the generalist form. So 'generally speaking' the more informal and less people present, the more collaborative your meeting will be. One of the big benefits will include information flowing more freely.

Best to manage their expectations. So if you are hosting the meeting, best to let the other party know that you'll be serving food so that they don't come with full stomachs. This also gives you the opportunity to ask about their dietary preferences and restrictions (don't want to unwittingly poison anyone). You will do well to adjust the agenda to include time for eating and socialising.

One of the benefits to your serving food is that your blood sugar levels will be higher as a result. This should aid clearer thinking, and should mean less risk of rushing the meeting or stopping short due to hunger or low blood sugar levels.

Another benefit is your invoking reciprocation. You've fed them, so they feel obliged to you, i.e. they owe you. Social Scientists have proven that we usually don't pay back in an equal amount, but often pay a disproportionately higher amount. e.g. they may make concessions in the contract that are much more valuable than the price of the meal.

If you're serving food before the meeting, this will give you time to talk socially before getting into business proper. You can use this time to build a better relationship and get to know personal information that they might otherwise not share across a negotiation table. Many cultures place a heavy emphasis on building a relationship and getting to know each other before talking business.

If they decline because they are uncomfortable eating in your office at a business meeting, then think about hosting your meeting at a restaurant, or preceding your meeting with a restaurant meal. A restaurant is neutral territory and is less formal. So they'll likely feel more relaxed and share more information.

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