Cells actively probe mechanical properties of their environment by exerting internally generated forces. The response they encounter profoundly affects their behavior. Here we measure in a simple geometry the forces a cell exerts suspended by two optical traps. Our assay quantifies both the overall force and the fraction of that force transmitted to the environment. Mimicking environments of varying stiffness by adjusting the strength of the traps, we found that the force transmission is highly dependent on external compliance. This suggests a calibration mechanism for cellular mechanosensing.