Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Pink Tie

Donald Trump didn’t say “you’re fired” to Miss USA Tara Conner on Tuesday, December 18, but if he had to, he was dressed for success.

Why? It’s the pink tie.

Pink is the color to wear when you must fire someone or give other bad news. Think “pink slip.” Being a skin tone, it establishes relatedness, connects with our common humanity and mitigates the effect of that bad news.

I was downsized once by a man with a lone pink stripe in his conservative navy and grey rep tie. I walked out of his office feeling ok about the situation and very positive about him. I’m not sure it was the pink stripe, but pink was there.

Here are some other phrases: in the pink, pink cloud, tickled pink. Even rose-colored glasses. It’s obviously a color with some very calming, pleasant associations.

Pink is traditionally the color of unconditional love signaling romance as opposed to sexuality. It is gentle and indicates a sensitive, caring heart. Those in pink seem affectionate, nurturing and concerned. Florists say pink roses signify grace, joy, gentility, admiration, appreciation and sincerity. No wonder pink might help us deliver bad news.

Sometimes the bad news is you. Why? Some people are threatened and quite irritated that a woman, or a subordinate, might be bright, clever or have good ideas. Powerful women, especially, report that their being in control is very bad news for certain people in their organizations.

Some of my women clients recognize this and wear pink to good effect. A touch of pink worn when they have a presentation or meeting with difficult people works wonders to soothe the savage beast, be it male or female. Elizabeth Dole is one powerful woman who does this on occasion, though her Southern accent and soft, feminine manner achieve the same result. And Hillary Clinton is much less threatening in pink – or, better, coral – than in yellow or red.

Does this sound like crazy psychobabble to you? Here’s some research.

Dr. Alexander Schauss, Ph.D. found that pink actually physically calms us down. He says, “Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can’t. The heart muscles cannot race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that seems to sap your energy. Even the color blind are tranquilized in pink rooms.”[1] The calming effects start within 10 to 15 minutes of exposure and last 30 minutes or more after leaving.

His findings have led jails from California to Texas to Alabama to use pink for cells and uniforms. And certain football teams have painted the visitor’s locker room pink in hopes of a strength and aggression advantage, which led the Western Athletic Conference to rule that home team and visitor locker rooms must now be painted the same color. Pink if they want, but pink for both.

Skin tones in general – whether pink, coral, peach or the deeper browns –say, “you can come closer.” They do their work best when worn near the face, hence the effectiveness of the pink tie. Though a pink shirt would work just as well.

With their ability to establish relatedness, skin tones are good choices for therapists and those working with young children. Not surprisingly they are also great in crisis intervention and anytime the energy level needs to be calmed.

So if you have to give bad news, if you are the bad news, or if you have a particularly ugly encounter on the horizon, try some pink. Especially near your face.

Some caveats:

  • Be sure to choose the right pink. If your skin has blue undertones and you look best in cool colors, pink is for you. If your skin has warm undertones, however, and you look better in yellow-based colors, be sure to choose coral, peach or even apricot. They are still skin tones, but suffused with yellow.

  • Be careful of rooms painted pink, especially in vibrant tones. The fine print of the research above says that after two hours of continuous exposure, pink causes depression or emotional disturbance.

  • Be careful about wearing large amounts of vibrant pink, say a bubble gum pink suit. Or so dressing someone else, a child or baby girl, for instance. Though I have not seen any research to support this, the large dose of intense pink might cause the same depression or emotional disturbance that continuous exposure in a pink room caused.

[1] Morton Walker, The Power of Color, (New York, Avery Publishing Group, 1991), p. 44.

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