Can humor make you a better negotiator?


Steve J. Martin, author of Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, reviews a study showing it can:

In one study, businesspeople were asked to negotiate on a specific and complex contract via email. Half the group were paired up and simply asked to get down to business. The other half were paired up and one side was given a funny (and inoffensive) cartoon about negotiation. That person was instructed to send the cartoon to the person they were negotiating with prior to getting down to business. 

The researchers believed that the funny cartoon would create increased trust between the negotiators and lead to higher gains for both. And they were right. The group that sent the cartoon generated not only higher levels of trust but also 15 per cent larger profits.

But what about situations where the ability to negotiate is limited because of set pricing structures or limited terms? Could the cartoon influence negotiations in these groups too? It turns out they it did. The increased trust gained by sending the cartoon first resulted in their negotiating partner being less extreme when putting down an offer. Negotiators who received the cartoon were more than twice as likely to make a first offer that was within the boundaries of acceptable terms compared to those that didn’t receive the cartoon. This simple change resulted in more efficient negotiating, saving unnecessary time and suspicion.

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