Will the Home Field Advantage Help You Hit an Influence Home Run?


Home_fieldIn nearly every sport, teams that play in their own stadium or ballpark tend to have a significant edge over their visiting opponents (Courneya & Carron, 1992). But does this “home field advantage” extend to other aspects of life, such as our ability to influence others?

Researchers Graham Brown and Markus Baer wanted to find out if there is a “home field advantage” when it comes to influence in negotiations. They hypothesized that the location of a face-to-face negotiation would give an edge to those negotiating in their “home territory.” They recruited pairs of participants to take part in a simulated negotiation over the price of an annual supply contract, where participants were randomly assigned to act as the buyer or the seller. The buyers wanted the lowest price possible, of course, whereas the sellers wanted just the opposite. 

The researchers used a clever methodology to manipulate “occupancy status”—in other words, whether the negotiators were “residents” in their home territory or were “visitors” in their opponent’s territory. To give residents a sense of ownership over their territory, before the negotiation began, residents were taken to a private office, where they were asked to: (1) write their name on a board outside the office, (2) choose the chair they wanted to sit in; (3) select some posters and postcards to place around the office; (4) fill out a schedule of their upcoming activities on a whiteboard; (5) use the internet on the office computer; and (6) hold onto the key to the office. While the residents completed these tasks, visitors were placed in a temporary location and were told that the negotiation would take place in their opponents’ office, which the resident supposedly had for a completely unrelated task. Once the residents were ready, visitors were brought in for the negotiation.

Consistent with their home field advantage hypothesis, Brown and Baer found that residents outperformed visitors. In other words, buyers succeeded in negotiating a lower price when they were residents compared to when they were visitors, and sellers succeeded in negotiating a higher price when they were residents compared to when they were visitors.

These results suggest that there does seem to be a home field advantage when it comes to influencing others. But why? The home field advantage observed in sports can be due to any number of reasons, including familiarity with the quirks of the field, inspiration from a friendly crowd, or referees who are easily swayed by the collective groans of 50,000 people. But none of these explanations could have possibly played a role in this research. Instead, two other experiments suggest that the setting of the negotiation may influence both residents’ and visitors’ confidence. Specifically, the evidence suggests that relative to a neutral-location control, negotiating in one’s own territory boosts one’s confidence and negotiating in the opponent’s territory reduces one’s confidence.

If negotiators benefitted from a bargaining advantage when “residing” in a location they had only been in for 20 minutes, imagine how much more powerful the effect could be for real-world locations such as one’s home, personal office, or office building. This research has clear implications for where negotiations—and presumably, other attempts to influence—should take place. If your target of influence asks you to come to his or her location, you should at the very minimum insist that the setting be in a neutral location, which will prevent that person from having the home field advantage. But, whenever possible, asking your target of influence to come to your location will increase the likelihood that, when you eventually step out of your office to announce the outcome of the negotiation to your colleagues, the crowd will go wild.

Brown, G., & Baer, M. (2011). Location in negotiation: Is there a home field advantage? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 114, 190-200.

Courneya, K. S., & Carron, A. V. (1992). The home field advantage in sports competitions: A literature review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 14, 13-27.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/sean26 Sean

    Interesting hypothesis, although I prefer to close deals in a clients office not in mine and it’s worked for me for nigh on 20 years.

  • Harry

    Actually I question the first paragraph: Sportteams have significant advantage in home stadium….
    I really wonder.
    Teams that feel competent may have an advantage.
    But teams that feel incompetent may lose it in front of their own crowd.
    Too much pressure.
    Compare the “cockroach” studies with “experienced” and “inexperienced” cockroaches.
    I suspect that the same effect may play here.
    Aside from this: I also concur with Sean (see other comment), by the way, and prefer to go to the client.
    In terms of reciprocity I will then have one up on him, because he now owes me.

  • Peter

    Yes, Harry and Sean, I agree, because client office = no other distractions and total focus on the deal.
    In the Brown Bear study the participants were still at an “out” location where they just happened to write their name on a card. That is different from being in your real own office.
    Conclusion: When you negotiate in the client’s office, take a card and write your name on it, choose the chair you want to sit in, draw a bit on a whiteboard or flip chart, open the door for your host, even offer him or her a mint or candy. And according to this study you will do better :-)
    “Home territory” is all in the mind!!

  • Chris

    My experience in negotiating is that if the opponent insists on their office that tells me something about them; I’ve been successful in going to opponent’s office and taking advantage of their thinking they won the first round by getting their choice of location.

  • IAW

    Thanks for your comment, Sean. The point of the research paper is to say that people are more likely to feel confident in their own territory, and that this increase in confidence may translate into greater influence. Certainly that doesn’t mean that people won’t be able to influence outside of their own territory. The biggest predictor of the outcome is the skill of the negotiators involved, but the location may play a role as well.

  • IAW

    It does turn out that overall there is a home field advantage in most sports, Harry, though the research on social facilitation you cited does indeed suggest it would work best for teams that have the best skill level to begin with.
    Also, you and the other are right that there could be a reciprocity advantage, but just make sure you go into the negotiation feeling confidence and don’t allow yourself to feel uncomfortable by being in their territory.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/michaelwebster Michael Webster

    What you would like to see is this:
    1. Have both parties primed to be confident.
    2. Find out if this mutually confidence helps or hinders their ability to bargain.
    I predict that it that will hinder their ability.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/sean26 Sean

    Thanks for the feedback. I failed miserably in trying to articulate my point and I didn’t do it very eloquently either. I think the a-ha moment the article made abundantly clear was the expectation of being persuaded or influenced is most likely to have that outcome. So in essence I don’t disagree with the article I just find that expectation is at work here rather than comfort.

  • Sanjay

    I wonder whether this measured result is influenced also by social proof. If you’re in your home office, you’re surrounded by your peers, and you don’t want to negotiate a weak contract and have your peers think you’re terrible at your job. I wonder if the presence of your peers causes negotiators to “stiffen the spine” and drive for a hard bargain… thoughts from those who are experienced at negotiating?

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