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Humor as a relationship‐building tool in online negotiations

Terri R. Kurtzberg (Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA)
Charles E. Naquin (Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Liuba Y. Belkin (College of Business & Economics, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pensylvannia, USA)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Article publication date: 2 October 2009




The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of humor in online negotiations and assess whether humor can act as a bridge for the otherwise relationship‐poor experience of negotiating via e‐mail.


Two experimental studies are conducted, using 122 executive MBA students and 216 MBA students respectively.


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.

Research limitations/implications

The highly controlled laboratory setting (the classroom) limits the generalizability and encourages future research in a more real‐world setting.

Practical implications

Managers may benefit by making personal connections in the online realm before engaging in professional communications, such as strategically employing humor at the outset of e‐mail negotiations.


This is the first study to empirically explore the direct role of humor in online negotiations a controlled experimental setting, and find its positive effects on the negotiation process.



Kurtzberg, T.R., Naquin, C.E. and Belkin, L.Y. (2009), "Humor as a relationship‐building tool in online negotiations", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 377-397.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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