13 Jun 2014  Working Papers

Handshaking Promotes Cooperative Dealmaking

Executive Summary — A simple handshake can have large consequences for a negotiation. In this paper the authors suggest that handshakes before negotiations—or the lack thereof—serve as subtle but critical indicators of negotiators' social motives. In particular, handshakes signal willingness to act cooperatively during negotiations. The authors propose and show through experiments that handshakes increase cooperative behaviors at the bargaining table and, as a result, influence outcomes in both integrative and distributive negotiations. Integrative negotiations are those in which parties' interests are neither completely opposed nor completely compatible, allowing negotiators to mutually benefit by making efficient trades. In contrast, distributive or "zero-sum" negotiations—in which the parties' interests are completely opposed—are characterized by a different set of strategies such as appearing firm and even lying about one's interests. Overall, these results contribute to research and scholarship on social motives. The work also has practical implications for the importance of building rapport in negotiation and conflicts more generally. Key concepts include:

  • Simply shaking hands before negotiations can increase cooperation at the bargaining table.
  • The social ritual of shaking hands can have positive effects even in antagonistic settings such as negotiations between parties in conflict.
  • A simple everyday ritual such as a handshake can create positive outcomes not just for individuals, but for parties in conflict.

 

Author Abstract

Humans use subtle sources of information—like nonverbal behavior—to determine whether to act cooperatively or antagonistically when they negotiate. Handshakes are particularly consequential nonverbal gestures in negotiations because people feel comfortable initiating negotiations with them and believe they signal cooperation (Study 1). We show that handshakes increase cooperative behaviors, affecting outcomes for integrative and distributive negotiations. In two studies with MBA students, pairs who shook hands before integrative negotiations obtained higher joint outcomes (Studies 2a and 2b). Pairs randomly assigned to shake hands were more likely to openly reveal their preferences on trade-off issues, which improved joint outcomes (Study 3). In a fourth study using a distributive negotiation, pairs of executives assigned to shake hands were less likely to lie about their preferences and crafted agreements that split the bargaining zone more equally. Together, these studies show that handshaking promotes the adoption of cooperative strategies and influences negotiation outcomes.

Paper Information