A Fun Way to Build Trust and Cooperation


Are you are trying to close a sale? Negotiating a contract? Maybe just trying to increase office teamwork? In these and many other situations, it’s important to connect with your counterparts and build trust.

A new study shows a surprisingly simple way to do just that. Even better, it’s a technique you can actually enjoy using.

Rdio office lunch
Lunch at Rdio (photo via designerfund.com)

We know that social conversation prior to talking business increases cooperation. Sometimes a little alcohol can boost bonding between strangers. Even something as small as a warm beverage can make you seem more friendly.

And, meeting over a meal can help, too.

Now, there’s a new wrinkle. A series of experiments show how you order that meal can significantly increase trust.

Researchers at the University of Chicago found that subjects who ate the same food were more likely to trust each other.

Similar food effect on trust

This bonding didn’t happen if they just ate together or ate at the same time. They had to eat the same kind of food.

Want to increase trust and cooperation? Food, used correctly, will do it. #Neuromarketing Share on X

The scientists tested the similar vs. different food conditions by simulating an investment decision and a labor negotiation. In both cases, they found trust and cooperation increased when they ate similar food.

Boost Testimonial Trust

Surprisingly, the trust increase went beyond person-to-person bonding. The scientists also found that product information was trusted more if the subjects viewed a video testimonial in which the person talking was eating the same food as the subject.

(Yes, that seems like an odd scenario and one that would be difficult to duplicate in real life!)


The scientists concluded from the video-viewing experiment that “food similarity is a powerful cue for inferring trust, even among third-party observers.”

They also showed that when the subjects were eating the same food as the presenter they liked the advertiser more than in either the different-food or no-food conditions.

A bizarre way to make your video testimonials more effective. #Neuromarketing Share on X

Make that two, please!

There are lots of circumstances where sharing a meal is a good practice in sales and negotiation. The new data shows that having the same food will increase the positive effects of this shared meal.

So, in a one-on-one sales situation, let your customer order first. Then, consider telling the server, “That sounds great, make it two!” Not only will you get the benefit of the “same food” effect, you’ll also subtly compliment your customer by endorsing her choice. (Flattery builds liking and increases recall of your message, too.)

Need more trust and cooperation? Here's what to order for lunch. #Neuromarketing Share on X

Simplify Group Meals

The study didn’t examine group dining, but if you are having a group meal having a single, fixed menu should build more trust and cooperation than a diverse selection of food.

Even a very simple menu (say, offering a vegetarian option to the primary choice) will increase the probability that most meal participants will be eating the same food.

similar pizza

Another option would be to offer choices that are almost the same visually. The study didn’t investigate this, but it seems probable that if we are both eating pizza the “similar food” effect would kick in despite one pizza being topped with pepperoni and the other mushrooms. Similar-looking sandwiches might do the same.

Look at the above illustration showing a shared lunch at San Francisco startup Rdio. We don’t know what’s in each bowl, but they all look identical. (Sadly, sharing similar food wasn’t enough to prevent Rdio’s demise.)

Win – win: not only will simplifying the menu invoke greater trust and cooperation, but ordering and logistics will be a lot easier.

In-Person Testimonials

I’m not sure how you’d get potential customers to eat a specific food while watching a testimonial video. And a testimonial-giver consuming a meal might seem kind of odd, to say the least.

But, bringing an existing customer and a prospect together for lunch could be a win for everyone. With some clever ordering, you can invoke the similar food effect. And, you’ll be rewarding your testimonial-giver with food and creating a more social atmosphere overall.

The Sooner the Better

Whatever kind of sales, negotiation, or team-building process you are involved in, set aside some time to schmooze over food. Similar food. And, do it early in the game before attitudes and perceptions have had a chance to become locked in.

Want to increase trust and cooperation? Food is the surprising answer. #Neuromarketing Share on X

So, what’s for lunch?

1 Comment
  1. saikrishna says

    Behavior research to attract new customers is a great thing. That was a great article. Your idea is really unique. Roger Dooley, Thanks for sharing wonderful resourse.

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