In 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.