In Negotiations Environment Matters, Cookies Matter

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As I progress (I think I am progressing at least!) with my PhD on nonverbal communication, I wanted to share a snippet 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.
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Crisis Negotiation Month Week One Posts

The month of April is "Crisis Negotiation Month" at  It is a collaboration between the ACR Crisis Negotiation Section and and it will bring you articles, tips, info graphics, and a webinar throughout the month.
Enjoy below the first week's articles:
Crisis or Hostage Negotiation: The Distinction Between Two Important Terms
From the FBI Bulletin:
...As time has passed since the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) was created, something noticeable has occurred in the realm of law enforcement hostage negotiation—the emergence of the word “crisis” being used and often replacing the term “hostage.” Reviewing academic literature, one will find the term “crisis negotiation” being commonly accepted while television and other media outlets still refer to “hostage” as the generalized term.
Read the article from the FBI Bulletin and also see a bigger version of the infographic [HERE]. 
What Do You Say After Hello?
How do you start a conversation with an armed and dangerous person who refuses to talk and whose only demand is that you go away?
Gary Noesner, retired Chief Negotiator of the FBI’s Hostage Negotiation Unit and author of the best-selling “Stalling for Time: My Life As An FBI Hostage Negotiator”, has worked through times like this from the moment he did his first hostage negotiation more than 30 years ago.
Read more from the Crisis Negotiator Blog [HERE]. 
Persuasion & Hostage Negotiation
From (an incredible website btw)
What Hostage Negotiators Know That Most Negotiators Get Wrong
In terms of basics, what do you think people can learn from hostage negotiating that they don’t learn in your typical negotiating class?
Chris Voss (retired FBI Negotiator):
business negotiations try to pretend that emotions don’t exist. What’s your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or‘BATNA.’  That’s to try to be completely unemotional and rational, which is a fiction about negotiation. Human beings are incapable of being rational, regardless. There’s a lot of scientific evidence now that demonstrates that without emotions you actually can’t make a decision, because you make your decisions based on what you care about.
Read the full article [HERE].

Active Listening Techniques of Crisis Hostage Negotiators
...Therefore, active listening when used properly and effectively, displays professionalism, develops rapport, and builds trust. This transcends the world of mediators and hostage negotiators. While reviewing the skills below, one can easily see how when employed in your professional and social setting, it can contribute to you being a more effective communicator.
Below are the seven techniques of active listening that are taught by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crisis Negotiation Unit (FBI CNU) to their special agents and other law enforcement officials from around the world.
Read the full article [HERE]. 
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“Crisis” or “Hostage” Negotiation? The Distinction Between Two Important Terms

This post is part of "Crisis Hostage Negotiation Month" at and is a collaboration with the ACR Section on Crisis Negotiation. See more posts [HERE]. 
(Click the above image to see a larger version of the infographic)

From the FBI Bulletin:

...As time has passed since the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT) was created, something noticeable has occurred in the realm of law enforcement hostage negotiation—the emergence of the word “crisis” being used and often replacing the term “hostage.” Reviewing academic literature, one will find the term “crisis negotiation” being commonly accepted while television and other media outlets still refer to “hostage” as the generalized term.

Read the full article HERE. 
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Practices of Effective Negotiators

I highly recommend every conflict resolution practitioner read the paper by Elfenbein et al. titled:

Why are Some Negotiators Better than Others? Opening the Black Box of Bargaining Behaviors

Download the paper for free [HERE].

Lead author, Hillary Anger Elfenbein
If my word is not convincing enough, here's some great tidbits from the paper about effective negotiators:
  • Better negotiators typical engaged in greater information sharing & seeking.  This allowed claiming and creating value
  • Moved the process along by using words that articulating discrepancies (should, could, would)
  • Controlled the flow of offers by making more offers and reacting to offers being made
  • Are accurate in understanding the interests & priorities of their counterparts
  • Using misleading information predicted greater performances as it was connected to value claiming
  • Displayed greater signs of dominance (talking more, saying "no" more, less nonverbal displays of affiliation)
I found this interesting with respect to anchoring:
There was no correlation between performance and consistently making the first offer in a negotiation
For those who enjoy nonverbal communication, this was very interesting:
In particular, consistently displaying nonverbal synchrony with one’s counterpart, as measured in terms of the appearance of coordinated physical movement, was associated with lower performance through lower value claiming.
I encourage everyone (yes, again!) to read the paper.  It provides a great opportunity to reflect on your approaches to negotiation and discern the information the paper provides.


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Get a Masters in Negotiation

Interested in getting a MS in Negotiation? Check this out then. 

I did it and really enjoyed it. It's primarily online while you go to Omaha twice for week-long intensive sessions. It was not easy (some think online programs=easy) but really enjoyable and well worth it.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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