For the next few weeks, decking the halls of your office with boughs of holly could mark your business out as one that extends goodwill to all men. But once the festive season is over and the decorations are taken down, all that's left is a plain wall. And it turns out that the colour of that wall could have a significant influence not only on your mood but also on how successful a negotiator you are.
Persuasion researchers have long known about the powerful effects that small changes to an environment can have on our behaviour. Websites that display credit card insignia typically lead to people spending more on goods, and more quickly. How much we eat from the Christmas buffet is largely due to the size of the plate we are given, not necessarily how hungry we are. And new research has found that we might come off worse in a negotiation if it takes place in a room with red walls.
The studies, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, looked at negotiation behaviours in a variety of settings that included online auction sites such as eBay. One found that buyers significantly increased the bids they made and ended up paying much more in an effort to win a Nintendo Wii games package if the website background was red compared to blue. In a second study, people looking to purchase a four-day package holiday were divided into two groups, provided with the price by the seller and then asked to make their best offer. Both the holiday and the price given to both groups were identical except the offer was presented on a red background to one group and on a blue background to the other. In contrast to the previous study, this time people presented with the offer on a red background were willing to pay less than those who were given the offer on a blue background.
In explaining these at first contradictory findings, the study authors explain that the colour red is more likely to arouse feelings of aggression. So in auctions, where the focus is primarily on competing against other bidders, the tendency is to bid more aggressively and end up paying more. Whereas in negotiations, the focus is on competing against a seller and thus the colour red primes people to make lower price offers.
So if buyers compete for your services, then this study suggests the primary colour used on your websites and marketing materials should be red. But if you want to avoid stoking a potential buyer's aggressive instincts, the advice would be to employ a more neutral calming colour such as blue.
Whether this means you'll be any more enamoured by that pair of socks or scarf you are given simply based on the colour of its wrapping paper is something else entirely.
Steve Martin is co-author of Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion. Visit influenceatwork.co.uk.
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