Soft Seat

If the last time you bought a car the salesperson offered you a soft, comfortable chair, there are two possible explanations:
  1) The salesperson was genuinely concerned about your comfort during a stressful negotiation.
  2) The salesperson knew you would pay more than if you sat in a hard chair.

That’s crazy, right? There’s no way that the firmness of your seat would change how much you’d pay for a car. If anything, a hard seat would make you eager to strike a deal more quickly, perhaps leaving money on the table. If that’s what you are thinking, you’d be wrong.

A study by Joshua M. Ackerman (MIT), Christopher C. Nocera (Harvard), and John A. Bargh (Yale), showed that “hard objects increased rigidity in negotiations.” One of a series of experiments involved a simulated car price negotiation in which the subject had to make a price offer for a car, which was rejected. Then, the “buyer” had to make a second offer. The subjects were also asked to evaluate their negotiating partner.

The researchers found that there was a significant difference between subjects sitting in hard and soft chairs. Those seated in hard chairs judged their negotiating partner to be less emotional. Most significantly, the “buyers” in soft chairs increased their offer by nearly 40% more than those in hard chairs. In short, a hard chair not changed the buyers’ perception of their negotiating partner, it made them harder bargainers.

Another experiment had subjects feel a hard block of wood or a soft blanket before rating a boss/employee interaction. The subjects who felt the hard block rated the employee as being more rigid than those who felt the blanket. Will these laboratory findings translate into real-world results? Study author Joshua Ackerman says, “I suspect that the stresses of real-world decision-making environments will act as mental distracters, making people even more susceptible to the effects of tactile cues.”

Softening Up Your Prospects

The Neuromarketing lesson from this research is that if you want to be perceived as more flexible in dealing with a prospect while at the same time increasing their flexibility in reaching a deal, take these steps:

  • Seat them in a soft chair.
  • If you hand them anything, avoid hard objects.
  • As I described in Heat Up Sales – With Coffee! (not coincidentally, based on research by John Bargh), offer them a warm beverage.

The combined effect will let you relate better emotionally to your prospect, and increase the chance of reaching a deal.

On a side note, this topic relates to the broader concept of neuroarchitecture. Will architects and designers begin to formally include findings from neuroscience and behavior research in their projects.

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