In Negotiation Environment Matters, Cookies Matter

Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 | No Comments
Image from

As I progress (I think I am progressing at least!) with my PhD on nonverbal communication, I wanted to share a snippet from an earlier version as I move towards completing the research.  As part of my research, I designed the METTA acronym to raise awareness of the importance of the role of nonverbal communication has with respect to the three skills of effective mediators: building rapport, developing trust, and displaying professionalism.

METTA represents: movement, environment, touch, tone, and appearance (see here).

Below I share about refreshments within the “E” of METTA- Environment.  Enjoy and please share your thoughts and comments:

It is also worth noting the role of having refreshments available for the negotiating parties has across the three studies of my PhD (study one was a survey, study two I interviewed mediation trainers and professors, and study three I observed mediation sessions) . Each study mentioned that refreshments were an element within “environment” that mediators need to account for. 

Having refreshments available for the parties has multiple advantages. First, it is part of a mediator’s preparation prior to the session beginning. Having refreshments available displays professionalism similar to how having writing materials available and setting the seating properly does.

From a rapport and trust building perspective, recent research as well as anecdotal evidence points to the “affective” benefits of having refreshments.A recent study showed the hungrier someone is, it can increase their anger and make them more aggressive due to fluctuations in their serotonin levels (Passamonti et al., 2011) . Both are two attributes a mediator is trying to avoid having in their parties if they are trying to promote a collaborative environment for the negotiation.

 Further, another research study spotlighted how having a meal together in a restaurant while negotiating produced more productive discussions and resulted in greater mutual gains compared to negotiating in a conference room and not eating (Balachandra, 2013). The researchers state the reasons for this are numerous including mimicry (sharing the same kinesic motions of eating), sense of control (no one is forcing you to eat), and regulating predjuice and aggressive behaviors.

Anecdotally, I have been told multiple times how much a people enjoy having their mediations at JAMS (a professional mediation business) offices due to the tasty cookies they have available. As absurd as it might sound, consider the two previously mentioned studies while also thinking of the priming effective the environment can have. If a party shares a meal or thinks of the upcoming negotiation with happy thoughts due to the cookies being served, it can contribute to a positive and collaborative approach to the mediated negotiation. Remember, preparation is key as well as first impressions.

Although the environment might be something easily overlooked or not considered important, the three studies have identified nonverbal communication environmental elements is in fact something worthy of consideration as it can contribute to building rapport, developing trust, and displaying professionalism. The environment clearly matters, even if it is something that can easily be overlooked, not be articulated as being important by the parties, or seemingly pointless such as having sharing in eating a tasty cookie.