How to Use Colour to Beneficially Affect Your Negotiations

Can colour affect your negotiations? 

What was the first thing that came to your mind when faced with this question? Was it wardrobe choices? Room colour? Colour of your skin? The colour you bring to the table when negotiating? There are layers to this conversation and it’s a subject worth examining. In unpacking the issue, we may be able to discover how to use colour as your secret sauce to better negotiation outcomes.

Not long ago we were bombarded with purported new shocking evidence about how colour can impact negotiations. Everyone rushed to change their wardrobe to maximize their effectiveness as a negotiator. While there is some merit to this science, I believe there are broader social implications to colour and in this article, I’d like dig deeper on the concept. Let’s explore the impact of the colour of our skin and our ‘personal’ colour.

In an ideal world, the colour of our skin wouldn’t matter. But the sad reality is that it still does – in terms of process, relationship and substantive outcomes. Simply looking at the continuing pay differential for white vs black vs First Nations vs Latino women dispels any notion that colour is irrelevant today. We still have work to do on this front.

While it’s unfair, the reality is that women of colour often feel the need to be more conscious about how they show up, as they’re perceived and judged differently. When legitimately advocating for themselves, they’re often unjustly labelled ‘angry black women’ or some such unflattering moniker. These stereotypes continue across the colour spectrum and can adversely impact on negotiation outcomes.

Even negotiating for access can be more challenging for persons of colour (and women of colour in particular). Getting a seat at the table can be affected by your colour. And for people for whom English is not their first language, the barriers can be even higher. They’re often not even given the time or space to put their thoughts together to express their views. This is an unfortunate loss in the bargaining process as valuable perspectives are ignored and lesser outcomes achieved as a result.

In addition to consideration of what biases you may face, it's also important to be aware of what biases you may bring to the table. We often go into negotiations making assumptions about the other party and in so doing we limit our effectiveness and ability to secure best outcomes. Likewise, we often make assumptions that the other person will discount us or not show up with partnership perspective. In bringing these biases, we miss opportunities as it narrows and compromises our perspective-taking ability.

Another element of colour that’s worth exploring is the individual ‘colour’ or personality you bring to negotiations. Do you feel comfortable to show up as your full authentic self? Or do you rein in certain qualities to meet expectations (real or perceived)?

Women are more likely to modify their behaviour to meet expected social norms. They fear (with good reason) being judged as ‘too emotional’ or ‘too demanding’. They may demure and soften their pitch and/or approach, ask for less, or play to egos in the room. At the other end of the spectrum, they may overcompensate, bringing masculine energy to the table that doesn’t reflect their authentic style, believing that’s the only way to be heard or succeed.

Many so-called experts advocate for women to modify their behaviour and employ ‘workarounds’ to avoid push-back based on societal expectations. I do not subscribe to this theory. I think it perpetuates the stereotypes and entrenches the problem. If we want meaningful change, we need to start talking about the elephant in the room and coax it out of the corner and into the light.

I believe we’re better served by showing up in our full authenticity and in so doing start to break down ill-informed barriers and expectations. We get what we tolerate in life. If we continue to tolerate discrimination, we will continue to attract it.

Instead, as per the first ‘W’ of my signature 5W model whoI invite you to consider, with intention, who you want to show up as in every negotiation. Choose the power of your authentic self, showing up in your full technicolor.


Are you looking to up level your negotiation skills?

Please enjoy my TEDx Ocala talk
- Rise of the Feminine Voice as the Key to Our Future-  

rise of the feminine voice cindy watson tedx ocala

Click to play


authentic self, colour, intention, Negotiations, stereotypes

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