by Jonathan Bradshaw | November 3, 2014

jonathan bradshawAs you read this post, where are you? Maybe you’re on a plane, a taxi, the office or at home. No matter where you find yourself, pause for a few seconds and focus on your surroundings. OK, now get curious about how your five senses are filtering your experience and how this is making you think, feel and behave. Is an annoying ring tone raising your blood pressure, the lingering smell of your coffee a calming influence, or that garish painting on your office wall making you feel slightly queasy?

A few years ago, Dutch psychologist Dr. Kees Keizer and a team of behavioral scientists from the University of Groningen published a fascinating study in Science based on the findings of American psychology professor, Robert Ciaddini’s groundbreaking book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Dr. Keizer’s team’s rather startling discovery was that by simply making subtle changes to their environment, humans can be steered into overwhelming behavioral change — specifically criminal behavior such as theft or littering.

The fact that human behavior can be influenced in such a way might have personal as well as professional benefits. While I am not suggesting that changing the color of your teenage children’s wallpaper will turn them into articulate and  socially engaging humans overnight, or that after a simple change in the texture of your bed linen you will find your partner uncontrollably passionate towards you again, consider how the environment in which you meet others could enhance your connection with them.

A while back I visited the ‘Brand Experience’ floor within the corporate headquarters of a major international hotel chain. There on the third  floor of a pretty standard office building housing over 700 employees were exact replicas of the bedrooms found in each of the group’s hotel brands — right down to the door key. Though most of us would be familiar with the visual branding, bed linen and furniture, how many of us would have recognized the almost imperceptible smell created by the small, innocuous-looking black machines dotted about the place? That same smell was at that very minute being created in thousands of hotels worldwide in the hope that, along with the right decor, music and bathroom amenities, it would put visitors in a certain (positive) emotional state.

The psychological effect of color (chromology) is worth a mention. Deciding what emotional state you want those you are meeting with to be in may lead you to look at using different colors in different rooms, adapting slides for presentation material and even changing the color, size and shape of the chairs you are sitting on. For example, did you know that curvy furniture has been show to have a more positive impact on emotional state when compared to items of a more angular design?

The science behind the impact of music is fascinating, too. Although behavioral change has been noted (in a store customers bought more German wine when German music was playing, and more French wine when French music was playing!) it is the emotions I am really thinking about now. Do you want those you interact with to feel calm and relaxed in your presence? Maybe playing suitable music is one of the answers.

The temperature has been shown to have an impact, too. If others feel cold when they meet you, research suggest they will link those unemotional, cool feelings with those they were in contact with at the time, so a cool room might be a detriment to building connectivity.

Finally, cheap plastic chairs read cheap plastic company/person. The perceived value of you and your brand can be highly influenced by things we come into physical contact with, such as cups, literature and pens. I always recall being given a polystyrene cup when meeting a potential supplier once. We never did business!

Jonathan Bradshaw is the CEO of the Meetology Group who train, coach and present on the fascinating science behind interpersonal communications. To find out more visit