Why you should put the kettle on before a negotiation

Negotiating with someone who is feeling positive towards us is certainly better than negotiating with someone who doesn't like us so much. In fact, there's a fairly simple thing we can do to improve how our negotiating counterpart perceives us - and it could be as simple as offering a cup of tea.

It may sound like an old fashioned way of solving problems. You’ve had a big argument with your business partner – sit down and discuss it over a cup of tea. You need to negotiate the early exit from a contract - put on the kettle and sit down for a chat with your supplier.


While this might just seem like the kind of thing your mum would suggest to make things better, there’s research to back up why that cup of tea (or any other hot drink) may well make a positive impact in your negotiations.


The importance of relationship in negotiation

In my workshops, participants often comment that the biggest challenges they face are managing the relationships with other parties in the negotiation.


The quality of the relationship is driven by the perceptions and assumptions we hold about each other. These fundamentally impact the way we approach a negotiation. If our counterpart is feeling hostile towards us, the result of the negotiation will be quite different to if they are feeling more positively towards us.


We are more likely to have favourable perceptions of someone we find to be a “warm” person rather than a “cold” person. Traits such as trustworthiness, friendliness and helpfulness are all associated with psychological warmth.


So, what can we do to improve the way someone is feeling towards us.


How to create psychological warmth

Two studies by researchers from the University of Colorado and Yale University, demonstrated that it is possible to change a person’s impressions and their behaviour, without them being aware of any external influences.


To understand these studies, it is important to know that neuroscientists have discovered that the part of our brain that is involved in processing physical sensations of warmth, is also responsible for processing psychological warmth.


In the first study, participants were primed by being given either a cup of hot coffee or a cup of iced coffee to hold. They were then given a description of a person. Based solely on the information provided, participants had to rate the person on a number of personality traits.


When participants were primed with a warm drink, they rated the person significantly higher in traits relating to warmth. There was no difference in ratings between the groups primed with hot or cold coffee for traits not relating to warmth. Holding the warm drink influenced participants’ subsequent interpersonal judgments.



In the second experiment, participants were primed with either a warm or cold therapeutic cushion. They were then given two options:

  • get a bottled drink for yourself and a $1 voucher for a friend; or

  • get a bottled drink for a friend and a $1 voucher for yourself.

The results showed that the temperature priming impacted on how likely participants were to choose a gift for themselves rather than a friend. Twenty five percent of those primed with a cold cushion selected the gift for a friend compared with 54 percent of those primed with the warm cushion.


So, while I wouldn’t expect to get exactly what you want from your next negotiation just because a hot drink is on offer, it does seem like a good idea so somehow prime your counterpart with a sense of physical warmth. So before your next negotiation, make sure you offer your negotiation counterpart a nice hot almond decaf latte!


For more information on how to improve your negotiation results, contact us for a no obligation discussion.

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