BREAKING BREAD TOGETHER

    The fascinating psychology behind mediation has given us another insight.  Sharing food from a common plate, sometimes called eating “family style” results in better and faster negotiations.  Researchers from University at Chicago and Cornell (The researchers were both women—no surprise, since women are so often responsible for meals.)  set up an experiment in which strangers were assigned to negotiate a hypothetical union-management dispute in which each round of negotiations resulted in another day of the strike costing both sides money.  This provided an incentive to conclude negotiations quickly.  

    However, before negotiations began the negotiators were invited to enjoy a snack of chips and salsa. Half of the negotiators were given one bowl of chips and salsa to share and half were given their own separate bowls.  Turns out that sharing a single bowl led the negotiators to reach a deal after only nine strike days as compared to 13 strike days for the negotiators who did not eat from a shared bowl.  This phenomenon was duplicated in another experiment in which friends and strangers were negotiating.  Being friends helped but sharing a common bowl or “breaking bread” together resulted in a significantly faster deal.  I grew up Catholic so the idea of breaking bread as a community is so familiar to me.

    Why?  Researchers believe the negotiators felt they were collaborating with one another rather than competing with one another.  This feeling of collaboration spilled over into the deal-making.  One of the study’s authors, Professor Ayelet Fishbach concludes that “[E]very meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone, and very meal that involves food sharing utilizes the opportunity to create that social bond.” 

    I love the ideas behind social evolution and how the evolution of our species impacts us to this very day.  Sharing was critically important to thriving communities.  We are wired to share and to feel good about sharing.  Studies demonstrate that children naturally share with one another without prompting.  The more sharing you can bring into mediation the better your results.  We are sharing a dispute; sharing a court system; sharing a physical space to mediate; sharing ideas about the case; sharing coffee and snacks; and hopefully sharing a deal at the end of the day.  What if we began the day by breaking bread together? Would we have a better chance to settle? Let’s try this at your next mediation with me!  





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