Conference Rooms vs. the Golf Course

Often when we are getting ready for an important negotiation, we think about our strategy and what we’re going to say. What we don’t always consider is the location of the negotiation and the impact the environment has on the potential outcome. This effect is called subliminal priming and can be a powerful source of indirect persuasion in a negotiation.

The effects of subliminal priming starts as kids. A professor at the University of Michigan conducted a study with six year olds, where he divided them into groups of two and they watched television shows in separate rooms. One group watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while the other group watched Barney. In observing the children afterwards, what they noted was that the group that viewed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was more aggressive in their play and behavior. They were doing ninja moves and in some instances, throwing toys. Kids that had viewed Barney, on the other hand, were behaving in a more cooperative manner and engaged in less aggressive play.

This effect of being influenced by the environment translates into adults as well. For example, if two people are discussing an issue in front of football game or boxing match, the conversation becomes very combative and competitive. If you place the same set of people in a coffee shop with music playing in the background, that same conversation is very different.

In the negotiations context, a prevailing assumption is that meetings should be held in conference rooms. In reality, conference rooms are a sterile business environment and what tends to happen is that your natural barriers go up: i.e. this is a business conversation and I need to be more formal. The environment impacts how you view yourself as well as those around you. However, if you were to hold the same meeting in a coffee shop, at a restaurant or over a game of golf, these same natural barriers tend to disappear. The reason is because people have positive associations with all of these activities, i.e. I play golf or have lunch with people I like. The natural barriers we form tend to subconsciously drop and this is also more conducive to forming relationships as well.