New Research: Can Facial Width Lead to Negotiation Success?

How many times have you seen an “expert” being interviewed on a television show to talk about how some aspect of physical appearance – how we are dressed, what we weigh, what our body language is, and so forth – influences our careers, our salaries, and our love lives? In addition, there are countless articles in the academic literature (in other words, articles that 99.5 percent of the population will never read) on how what we might generally term “physical attractiveness” is related to certain outcomes.

This holds true across diverse fields of study, in everything from psychology to advertising (how consumers perceive ads), to human resources (how managers perceive job applicants), to education (how teachers perceive students), to medicine (how doctors perceive patients), and more.

It’s a controversial but fascinating subject, so it should come as no surprise that the latest entry into this realm of research caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal. Reporter Melissa Korn wrote a column with the attention-grabbing headline “Men With Wide Faces Are Better Negotiators.” And I admit the story got me to click on it in my news alert for the fact that I don’t fall into this group (Q: ”Why the long face?” A: “That’s just how I normally look!”). So, do you have another reason to look in the mirror with trepidation before going for that job interview, asking for a raise, negotiating a price, or, yes, meeting your blind date? Well maybe – and maybe not.

A tale of two faces

A tale of two faces

Korn’s article was based on forthcoming research that will appear in The Leadership Quarterly, a respected academic journal. She interviewed the lead researcher of the study, Michael Haselhuhn, an assistant professor of management at the University of California. According to his university bio, Haselhuhn’s specialization is in the “remarkable links between facial metrics and important organizational outcomes” and the “social-cognitive underpinnings of organizational behavior.” And so his present study fittingly focuses on how the facial structures of participants in business interactions affect the decision-making of the participants.

Haselhuhn conducted two simulations and found that men with wider faces fared better in the negotiations than those with longer faces. Now before you get the measuring tape to measure yourself and your coworkers, it must be said that the WSJ article did not go into specifics on what constituted a face falling into either the wide or long group. However, in a mock salary negotiation, Haselhuhn and his colleagues found that wider-faced men were able to negotiate signing bonuses over $2,000 greater than their longer-faced peers. And in the second, real estate-based simulation, wider-faced men were both able to obtain a higher price for a property when they were the seller and purchase a property for a lower price when they were the buyer.

Does that mean that wider-faced men will win in every negotiation? And, as most of this outlet’s readership is involved in the business-to-business market, should you stock your organization’s buying staff and/or your sales force with wide-faced individuals? The answer is not necessarily as clear as you might think. Haselhuhn noted that while his research, consistent with prior work in the area of facial metrics, showed that broader-faced individuals are indeed perceived to be better negotiators and to be more aggressive in their interactions, those with narrower-faces are likewise seen to be better at fostering compromise and creative solutions in negotiations. It is also important to note that his research did not translate to the other half of the population, and so how women’s facial dimensions affect negotiations is less clear.

So the next time you sit down to negotiate a contract, your first impression of your male counterpart may indeed mean something. And if you are a man looking in the mirror, the reflection looking back at you may make you think twice about dieting or really considering that small medical procedure a friend had in Mexico. A wide face may be a positive attribute for your career after all.

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