Leadership

The surprising way to build trust with employees and potential clients

Broede Carmody /

Ordering the same meal as a potential client or employee while closing a deal or having a lunch meeting has been shown to boost trust, according to a leading neuromarketing specialist.

Roger Dooley, the founder of marketing agency Dooley Direct, says it’s important to pay attention to what food you’re ordering in the presence of a contact or work colleague if you care about building stronger bonds with that person.

Dooley points to a series of experiments conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago that found people are more likely to trust one another more when they eat the same food at the same time.

Read more: How neuroscience can improve your business’s marketing

Participants in the study tended to make ‘high trust judgements’ when eating the same food as the person sitting opposite them, irregardless of whether they were simulating a workplace negotiation or investment deal.

“Whatever kind of sales, negotiation, or team-building process you are involved in, set aside some time to schmooze over food,” Dooley says.

“Similar food. And, do it early in the game before attitudes and perceptions have had a chance to become locked in.”

Dooley points out that while it could look “odd” to order the exact same thing as a potential client or business partner, the ‘same food effect’ probably extends to food that looks similar.

This means in a group lunch situation, or where it would be impractical or strange to order the exact same thing as another person, ordering something similar may also help.

“Having a single, fixed menu should build more trust and cooperation than a diverse selection of food,” he says.

No wonder so many businesses – particularly in the technology space – are providing meals for their teams.

For example, graphic design startup Canva treats its employees to a free lunch at 1pm every weekday.

Trust is all about finding out what’s important to the other person

Eve Ash, psychologist and chief executive of Seven Dimensions, told SmartCompany it’s not surprising that studies have found sharing the same or similar meal would build trust between two people.

“It probably traces back to tribal sharing centuries and centuries ago, where to share with somebody meant you weren’t fighting with them,” Ash says.

“But these days, we’ve got so much more emphasis on food. If you go to a restaurant, people will ask what are you ordering. This used to not be the case – people would just order their food and eat. Now we photograph it.”

Ash points out that if people want to build trust with another person, the key thing is to find out what that person cares about.

For example, Ash says a simple trick is to ask someone if they prefer to be contacted by email, phone or text message – as well as when not to contact them.

“Remembering what’s important to them, their dislikes or likes, and sensing when things are not right and offering caring words, empathy – that’s going to build trust,” she says.

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Broede Carmody

Broede Carmody is a former senior SmartCompany reporter. Before this, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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