Rapport in Conflict Resolution: Accounting for How Nonverbal Exchange Fosters Coordination on Mutually Beneficial Settlements to Mixed Motive Conflicts

By Aimee L. DroletMichael W. Morris
1998| Working Paper No. 1477

We propose that face-to-face contact fosters the development of rapport and thereby help negotiators coordinate on mutually beneficial settlements in mixed-motive conflicts. Specifically we test the hypothesis that, in a cooperative climate, negotiators’ visual access to each other’s nonverbal behavior fosters a dyadic state of rapport that facilitates mutual cooperation. Experiment 1 manipulated whether negotiators stood face-to-face or side-by-side (unable to see each other) in a simulated strike negotiation. Face-to-face dyads were more likely to coordinate on a settlement early in the strike, resulting in higher joint gains. An alternative interpretation in terms of an anticipatory effect of face-to-face contact was not supported. Experiment 2 manipulated whether previously unacquainted negotiators conversed face-to-face or by telephone before separating to play a conflict game with the structure of a Prisoner’s Dilemma game. Face-to-face dyads were more likely to coordinate on high joint gain outcomes. The facilitatory effect of face-to-face contact was statistically mediated by a measure of dyadic rapport. Results did not support an alternative interpretation involving negotiators’ expectations about their counterpart’s decision. We conclude with a discussion of the role of affective and dyad-level processes in social psychological models of conflict resolution.