Have You Measured Your Face Lately?

I always figured that the way people look has something to do with their success. Let’s face it. We’re all constantly being judged by others, and some of those judgments are based on how we look.

How important is appearance? The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, Executive Presence. Hewlett asserts that three elements make up one’s “personal presence”—how you behave, how you speak, and how you look. (She also notes that “showing teeth”—being decisive when faced with hard choices—plays an important role.)

Are we short? Tall? In between? Are we slim? Pudgy? Somewhere in the middle? Are we conventionally good-looking? Or would our faces stop a clock (to use a phrase favored by my brother-in-law)?

All these factors come into play when others take a look at us and evaluate our merits. I myself come up short (literally) on at least one of them.

One factor I never took into account is the width of my face. But a recent study has come up with some astounding results, leading researchers to conclude that a wide face is worth more in the business world than a narrow one.

The overall study was run by researchers at the business school at the University of California, Riverside, along with London Business School and Columbia University. The research team, led by a UC management professor named Michael Hasehuhn, conducted a series of studies on business students with different facial-width to facial-height ratios.

According to a July report on this research in the Wall Street Journal, the earliest studies revealed that business students with wide faces were more aggressive, self-interested, and unethical. They were even more likely to lie. The researchers found, for example, that these students were more likely to resort to outright deception to close a sale. They also cheated more in games.

The more recent research focused on how these students fared in negotiations. The researchers found that men with wide faces tend to take a more competitive approach to negotiations than men with narrower faces. When the students engaged in simulated salary negotiations, the men with wider faces entered the negotiations with a more competitive mind-set and wound up negotiating a signing bonus of nearly $2,200 more than the bonus won by men with narrow faces. In simulated real-estate negotiations, a property went for a higher price to a wide-faced seller but a lower price when that same wide-faced guy was the buyer.

According to Hasehuhn, these findings are consistent with earlier research on attributes associated with wide-faced males and may have implications for all men who enter into negotiations. For example, a narrow-faced man can anticipate a more contentious exchange if he knows he will confront someone with a wider face. At the same time, wide-faced guys can “tweak” their own approach to negotiations if they expect to be perceived as more aggressive.

Because these findings struck me as somewhat sketchy, I sought the opinion of a nationally-recognized negotiator, Ron Shapiro. In his over-forty-year career as a negotiator in the worlds of law, sports, business, and politics, Shapiro has conducted successful negotiations on behalf of high-profile clients like Cal Ripken Jr., negotiating more than $1 billion in contracts, even resolving a symphony orchestra strike. He’s also cofounded the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, where he trains people in a variety of professions how to negotiate successfully. His best-selling books include Dare to Prepare and Perfecting Your Pitch.

Shapiro reviewed the findings of the business school researchers. Although he doesn’t question the findings, he has a totally different take on things. He believes that even if physical characteristics are assumed to have an impact on the outcomes of negotiations, “the real difference maker … on outcomes is how systematically the negotiator goes about his or her negotiation efforts.” In other words, negotiators’ skills outweigh a superficial trait like the width of their faces. He’s seen outcomes “shift markedly” after a negotiator has been “empowered” by learning the right kind of skills. He “will take that over these wide/narrow research findings any day.”

If you’ve noticed that the research findings focus entirely on men, you may be wondering: What about women? The Bloomberg Businessweek review of the research noted that women didn’t benefit from “the perks of a wide mug.” Apparently, when men see their faces in the mirror, a wide-faced man gets a rush of power but a wide-faced woman doesn’t. Hasehuhn told Businessweek he thinks biology plays a role. “Men with wider faces tend to have higher circulating rates of testosterone,” and he claims that this higher level has been linked to feeling powerful.

Where is the support for Hesehuhn’s biological theory? I’m not sure. Maybe he’ll reveal it when his paper is published in an upcoming issue of Leadership Weekly.

In the meantime, as a woman, I’m apparently immune to the wide-faced/narrow-faced dichotomy. But if you’re a man, maybe you should think about measuring your face sometime.

On second thought, you’d be wise (if not wide) to take Ron Shapiro’s advice and focus instead on sharpening your negotiating skills. Women should do the same.

And maybe, when appropriate, you should show your teeth—no matter what kind of face they’re in.

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One response to “Have You Measured Your Face Lately?

  1. Susanustwrites once again on perplexing data. Thanks for clearing it all up with Ron Shapiro’s take and coming to a broad conclusion that puts width in it’s place. Loved it.

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