Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Significance of Colour in Business

As I write this email it is 'Black Friday’. Traditionally this is the day after Thanksgiving in the US, and it represents something of a shopping frenzy. Billions of dollars are spent and the tradition also seems to have found its way to the UK, where bargains galore can be found online and in store at all hours of the day and night. Leaving aside the possible reasons why on earth you might want to partake in such activities, I am struck by the moniker of it being ‘Black’ Friday (as opposed to blue, yellow or orange). As it happens, the significance of it being called ‘Black’ Friday stems from the fact that originally when shoppers went out in search of a bargain, there were traffic accidents, road rage and even civil unrest. The colour black signified something negative, dark, ‘bad’, ‘undesirable’ and quite simply it demonstrates a simple truth.

As we enter the festive season, we associate Christmas with red and green and the origins of these colours date back well before Victorian times. According to Cambridge University, red and green were used to delineate different spaces within the church and where people sat and worshipped. So, parishioners sat on one side of the nave, and the clergy sat on the other side. Using red and green to represent a ‘boundary’ (whether it’s in terms of worshippers at Christmas), or whether it’s in terms of one year ending and another starting, colour had meaning and it spoke a language that everyone understood.

The colour purple was the last colour to be discovered on the colour wheel, and that made it expensive as a dye to use on clothes. This meant that only royalty and the clergy could afford to wear it. When Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech after losing the Presidential election in November 2016, she (and her husband) wore purple, see here. Let us be under no illusion. That choice of colour was deliberate. Purple signifies courage (i.e. the Purple Heart is a US military medal), luxury, ambition, dignity, devotion, pride, creativity and peace. It was also the colour of the suffragette movement.

So what?

So the colours we wear have meaning. Whether it’s in the colours of our favourite football team, the colours on our national flag or the colours in our home, human beings emotionally and physically respond to colour. There is a myriad of data which proves that the colour around us can affect our mood, our blood pressure and our appetite. Hotel lobbies, bedrooms, meeting rooms and offices around the world often have a pale, muted hue because it’s more calming and makes the space look bigger. When we wear high contrast (dark and light), it conveys authority because of the professions (police, judges, clergy, nurses etc.) who wear it. When we wear colours with little contrast, it conveys more approachability. Our choice of garment colour represents a chance to convey a message. There is a reason why bright yellow trouser suits for men are hard to find…or orange suits for work for ladies.

The colours we wear matter; so when you next get dressed for work, ask yourself – what is the message I want the world to get about me and how is my choice of colouring helping or contradicting that message. Leaders with Executive Presence put consistency and intention into their look - including their choice of colour to wear.

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