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.