A recent study indicates that our physical sensations directly affect the way that we perceive other people and situations. In one experiment, researchers asked volunteers to complete a puzzle made up of either smooth pieces or pieces covered in sand paper. The volunteers completing the puzzle with rough pieces reported that the social interaction was "less coordinated" and more difficult than the people handling the smooth puzzle pieces.
In another experiment, volunteers were asked to pretend to negotiate for the sale of a car sitting on either hard or soft chairs. The volunteers sitting on hard chairs described the exchange as more rigid, presenting offers that were closer to the original sticker price-- in essence, they drove a harder bargain than the volunteers sitting on soft chairs.
The findings, published online June 24, 2010 in Science, show that subtle differences in tactile sensations can "influence our impressions and decisions, even when the people and events those impressions and decisions concerned are entirely unrelated to what is being touched," the authors noted in their study.
This study offers useful information that we can apply to our personal and professional relationships. If you're in a field where tough negotiations are the name of the game, design your office accordingly. Maybe you take it so far as to keep your solid sitting surface while your clients sit on something softer.
The findings suggest that high stakes conversations with people we care about are likely to go more smoothly if we are sitting in a comfortable environment and in contact with softer materials like a cozy couch and a soft blanket. Many of the intense conversations we have with our partners tend to happen in the kitchen where there are more hard surfaces, cold objects and sharp knives. Increase your capacity for empathy, compassion, and compromise by changing your physical sensations.
Try it at home: Next time you and your partner have a tough conversation on the table, take it off the table and into the coziest place in the house. For even more bang for your buck, take a few moments before diving into the discussion to close your eyes, notice the sensations of the materials you are in contact with by feeling the blanket in your hands and the soft support of the couch under you. Open your eyes and look into your partner's eyes. Notice all of the softness around you focusing on one sense at a time and then, begin your conversation. Leave a note in the comments or send a private message to let me know how it went. ~MK