“Let’s talk.” The magnitude of these two words can be hefty.
While we crave closeness, understanding, and intimacy, getting through delicate dialogue is tough for even the most conversationally skilled. At baseline, tense exchanges require comfort. But, what’s essential to comfort? Our relaxation requirements can vary from space to space. On a chilly winter day, we might crave thick fuzzy blankets, hot cider, and cuddles. Find us on a sunny afternoon in Miami however, and what we’ll need will be vastly different (floppy hat and a bathing suit please!). To break down comfort, let’s start by observing how we take in our environment. Senses play a large role in psychological and emotional processing - appealing to them can be the key to getting cozy and getting closer in conversation.
TOUCH - A study just published in The Journal of Consumer Research suggests that in a negative frame of mind, people are more likely to crave soft or pleasant textures. Basically, when we’re sad or anxious, we’re soothed by touch (don’t know about you, but I definitely felt seen when I read this). We all tend to reach out for smooth, warm, and familiar sensations. How to set the mood for better conversation? Incorporate plush textures in your décor, like velvet pillows and furry throws, opt for softer spaces like the living room, and avoid cold, boxy furniture.
SIGHT - The same study found that we are more visually sensitive when we’re happy, which basically means that we take in more information from our environment when we’re in a good mood. Good to know, but if a one on one conversation calls for focus, whether you’re in a good mood or not in a great one, a stressful environment can make the conversation feel more stressful too. Minimizing distraction is better. Set the mood by reducing visual clutter and having lighting work in our favor. Brighter light can intensify emotions (both positive and negative ones), while low light tends to neutralize them. Using natural light or low intensity artificial lighting with warm hues can help us feel more at ease. Let the sun in during the daytime or light a few candles (or a salt lamp!) in the evening to make an intense talk feel lighter.
SOUND – In movies, the background music is just as important as the acting. It guides us through not only witnessing, but feeling a scene. When curating the right environment for kind conversation, we should pay attention to two things – ambient sound and speech. It’s no surprise that there are a number of apps with infinite “calm” playlists. A university study found that string instruments, drums, and flutes are most relaxing, in addition to nature sounds (think rain or birds) and light jazz. Just like sharp, loud music might increase our heart rate and make us more alert – our voices have a similar effect. Keeping an even tone of voice during discussion can feel less audibly alarming to our conversational partners.
SMELL – Let’s talk fragrance and feels. Scent is closely linked to memory. It’s almost obvious that we crave familiarity here as well. There are entire corporations built around scent nostalgia - candles that remind you of seasons, soaps that remind you of dessert, and cologne that reminds you of your high school crush are powerful… to say the least. So how do we get in on that? Aromatherapy! Scents like lavender, jasmine, and lemon balm can subconsciously guide us (and others) into feeling cozy, calm, and clear-minded. Incorporate these scents using an essential oil diffuser or diluting and applying directly on the skin.
Having intimate conversations with a partner, friend, or family can feel a little easier when we take stock of our surroundings. To minimize stress and encourage positive emotional response, remember: go for familiar and soft - Choose comfy spaces, furniture, lighting, and music for best results. Go on, get closer.
by Rosa Sierra