Persuade People With Colors

Using Colors

When preparing for a high stakes negotiation, you may be considering your research, your arguments, your leverage, your strategies and your tactics.   While all of those are critical to be pondering, there is another, perhaps less obvious but no less persuasive piece for which you should be planning with equal care.    In fact, there is quite an impressive body of research that proves that what you wear has a marked impact on your psyche, your poise and your presentation, as well as your impact on the other party.   

The New York Times did a study on the nexus between the clothes we wear and their impact on our psyche.   They found that if a person wore a white coat they believed belonged to a doctor, then their attention increased sharply, but if they wore a white coat (same coat) they believed belonged to a painter, then there was no improvement.    Scientists have come up with a fancy schmancy name to go with this phenomenon – it’s called “enclothed cognition” – meaning that what you wear has an impact on how you think.  

These findings are part of a larger area of psychology called embodied cognition, which stands for the proposition that we not only think with our brains, but our bodies participate in that process as well.   Our physical experiences, including the clothes we wear, influence our thoughts.  

The flip side of how you feel in the clothes is how others will perceive you.   Studies have shown that women who dressed in more masculine attire had increased chances of being hired.  Furthermore, people who dressed more professionally were perceived as smarter than those who did not.   

Color Me Powerful 

Millions of dollars have been spent in industries across the board, from healthcare to fashion, and from financial planning to ecology, on what effect colors have on us humans.  The impact is psychological, conscious, subconscious, emotional and physiological.   In negotiations, colors make just as much of a difference.    Here are some common colors, what they mean and what impact they have on negotiations: 

Red:   Red is often associated with intense emotions such as love, anger, passion, power and desire.   It also signals danger and can be associated with violence.  Fire engines and ambulances are red.  So is blood.  Even expressions using the word “red” are emotionally intense.  “In the red” means you are spending more money than you have. There are “red flags”, “red hot”, “beet red” and “blood red.”    Considering all of that, it may be fairly obvious that in negotiations, red is not a color to wear if your plan is to actually get to a resolution.   This is not a color of trust or safety.   It can definitely be a power color so if your only goal is to intimidate then red might be the color for you.  If your goal is to get the other person to resolve the issues, then it is not the optimum color.  

Black:   Like red, black is a color of intensity.  While it can mean power, strength, authority and formality, it also connotes death, evil, and negativity.    Darth Vader wore all black.  Certain psychologists have said that wearing all black day after day can even affect your own mood and even can cause depression and mood swings.   While black can also mean sophistication and elegance, it is also associated with mourning, and can be even more sinister; gangs are often seen wearing all black.   There is also a gender difference with black.   So for negotiations, a man wearing all black might be perceived as sending a message of caution or to stay back, whereas with women, the message transmitted may be one of composure and poise.   It is still not the ideal color for negotiations however, for either (or any) gender.  

Orange:   While orange is similar in hue to red, it is its own animal.   Orange has aspects of yellow, which is warmer and more inviting.  There is an energy to orange that causes a feeling a lightness, happiness and fun.   The sun is orange, and orange juice is considered a morning pick me up. People who wear orange are viewed as more sociable, more friendly and more approachable.  Orange is a safe color to wear in negotiations and does make a positive statement.   

Green:   Green is one of the natural colors that appears on the planet and so is viewed positively.  It is often associated with healthy food, environmentally friendly products, conservation, as well as life, renewal, nature and energy.   Green is also the color of money, which often is a positive connotation for people, so they think of green as meaning abundance, growth, luck and even balance.  When people see others wearing the color of green, they feel a sense of calm, relaxation and soothing. Green can also bring a sense of hope, health, compassion and harmony.    Thus, green is a good color for negotiation.   A couple of caveats however, olive green is associated with the army or illness, so that shade is not as desirable, and further, some psychologists say that too much green can even cause lethargy and placidity.  Overall, however, green is a positive color for negotiations, especially jade or emerald greens. 

White:   In contrast to red or black, white means purity, innocence, light, cleanliness and goodness.   It is the color we often see God or angels wearing and the color of a lot of soaps.   We see doctors wearing white coats, as do brides, laboratory scientists and good guys.   It’s the color of snow and the color of the surrender flag.   White can also mean new beginnings, wholeness, cleansing and renewal.   Because of all of these meanings, when people are wearing white, the effect on the mind and body can be one of a feeling a clarity, and the encouragement of exorcising old negative thoughts and emotions, which will allow for positivity to flow.  Therefore, white is a positive color to wear during a negotiation.  

Purple:   Purple is often associated with royalty, power, nobility, passion, fulfillment and luxury.   Maybe that’s why Prince liked purple so much.  Purple often occurs naturally as well, as some of the most beautiful flowers are purple; lilacs, lavender, orchids and violets.    These are some of the most beloved flowers and are considered to be precious, desirable and delicate.   Purple is also associated with spirituality and is used with depicting astrology, third eyes and auras.  Purple is a color of trust and therefore makes a great color for a negotiation.

Yellow:   Yellow is bright, airy and light.  Much like orange, but even without that intense red mixed in, yellow is friendship, love and safety.  It also means freshness, optimism, clarity and happiness. Remember the old round smiley face. What color was that again? Oh right. YELLOW!   It was also the color of ribbon used when people had loved ones at war, and they were praying and hoping for their safe return.  While all this sounds lovely, yellow is also the color that signifies being a coward, fearful or “yellow.”   It can be perceived as weak and so it’s a wonderful color for a Buddhist monk but not necessarily an optimum color for negotiating. 

Blue:   You often see blue in ads for financial advisors and lawyers.  Doctors’ scrubs are also blue.  Think that’s an accident?  Yeah, NO!  Blue is a color of trust, hope and optimism.   It’s the most prevalent color on the planet and is the color of water, the element that makes up 60% of us.   Blue also connotes peace, trust, loyalty, stability, faith, the sky, confidence, heaven and intelligence. The color blue has positive effects on the mind and the body.  We often see news anchors wearing blue, and it is also the color that is most often worn in job interviews.   To be clear, when we are referencing blue here, it is usually a navy blue or a royal blue, not a neon or electric blue.  Those colors cause more agitation and can do more harm than good in a negotiation.   While blue can also mean depressed or sad, it mostly brings a positive response and thus, blue is the winner of the color war when choosing something to wear for your big day.   

To summarize the above, the best color choices to wear for a successful negotiation would be blue, green or purple, followed by orange and white.   Probably best to avoid red, black or yellow in this instance.   Save those colors for when they will serve you best.   Figure how you feel and choose to wear a color that’s going to make you want to slay the day.