Interculturalists and cross-cultural communication
specialists are the first to advise caution when it comes to using humour in  international business. Copywriters and marketers often avoid humour for fear of offending readers in an increasingly diverse market place.

However, according to a recent study laughter may be a profit-enhancing business tool when used in negotiations by increasing trust and rapport. Read below to understand the role of humour on the early stages of negotiations and its subsequent impact on the trust between the negotiating parties – and, most importantly, whether there was any commercial gain…

Participants were instructed to conduct their negotiations for a complex contract by email. Half the group started the process by sending a funny, inoffensive Dilbert cartoon to their opposite number. The others didn’t. The researchers believed that the cartoon would create increased levels of trust between negotiators and subsequently higher gains for both.

The findings showed that the group that started with the cartoon generated higher levels of trust, resulting in a 15% bigger return and increased satisfaction levels on both sides. Also, the cartoon made negotiating partners less extreme when making their first offer as they were more aware of a sense of ‘the other side’ as a real person. 

Unfortunately, there are extreme limitations to the findings as the research was conducted under a classroom setting with US MBA students. However, it would be interesting to conduct the research in a real-world setting.

Victor Borge, the much loved Danish-American entertainer remarked that “laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”  But, will cross cultural communication bear this out as there are two nationalities in particular  that avoid jokes and other forms of humour during actual business sessions?

Germans find it out of place during a negotiating meeting – as business is a serious business and should be treated as such, without irrelevant stories or transactions. This shows respect.  Germans don’t like kidding around or being kidded.  Kidding muddies the water and creates confusion – it is not honest.

The Japanese also fail to see any benefit in introducing humour into business meetings. Out of politeness and so you will not lose face, they will laugh if you tell a joke but they will probably not have understood it. They will take anything you say quite literally so joking makes them very perplexed.

The research:
Conducted by Dr. Terri Kurtzberg from Rutgers University, Charles Naquin from DePaul University and Liuba Belkin from Lehigh University. The cartoon provided was one by Dilbert creator Scott Adams and had been previously shown to a group of other business people to test its effectiveness at inducing laughter and to ensure that it was inoffensive. (It was found to be both).

Purpose – The purpose was to explore the role of humor in online negotiations and assess whether humour can act as a bridge for the otherwise relationship-poor experience of negotiating via e-mail.

Design/methodology/approach – Two experimental studies are conducted, using 122 executive MBA students and 216 MBA students respectively.

Findings – Study 1 demonstrates that beginning an e-mail transaction with humor results in: increased trust and satisfaction levels; higher joint gains for the dyad; and higher individual gains for the party who initiated the humorous event. Analyses reveals that it is the exploration of compatible issues (as opposed to effective tradeoffs) – that increased the level of joint gain. Study 2 demonstrates that first offers in a purely distributive negotiation are more likely to be within the bargaining zone when e-negotiations are initiated with humor, and the resulting final settlements in the humor condition are also more equally distributed between parties (more of an “even split”) than are transactions without a humorous start.

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This entry was posted on Monday, April 19th, 2010 at 8:05 pm and is filed under cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural differences, General, international business . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “ How Humour in Negotiations Increases Sales 15% ”

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