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So What’s in a Face?

Cat with staring eyes - magnus rosendahl

A man finds room in the few square inches of his face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Conduct of Life

Professional poker players frequently wear shaded glasses to hide their eyes from their opponents for fear of offering vital clues as to their state of mind and intentions. Whether the eyes are the ‘windows to the soul’ is a philosophical question for another time, but they’re certainly key to both establishing a connection and providing insight into the person within.

We register faces in about 1/17th of a second – quite possibly a throwback to a limbic system fight or flight response. Research from Harvard shows that we form impressions of others within 2 to 7 seconds of first meeting. Whether we realize it or not we are all ‘people readers’ with gut feeling frequently determining likes and dislikes.

In business we inevitably meet some people with whom we feel little connection, but with whom we must interact. Having insight into their personalities, behaviour and communication styles enables us to better build bridges, or resolve conflicts should they arise.

Our facial features and the changes that occur throughout life offer a wealth of information if we can learn to decipher them. The ancient Chinese art of Mien Shiang is proving invaluable to corporates today in key areas requiring face to face interaction. TV and Hollywood have also made great use of facial archetypes e.g.  in Star Trek the Next Generation we see the Ferengi with their large noses and ears being focused on money (check out any richest people list); the Klingons with their large and big-boned faces with angular features are direct and aggressive; Bambi’s big eyes represent openness and friendliness – notice how few politicians have big eyes!

We know that CEOs at corporate level have predominantly wider mouths, being by nature more verbally expressive. We also know that it is rare to find very successful entrepreneurs with small noses. If we do we note that they are likely to be working full-time hands-on in their business with very little free time to develop a broader vision. Their tenacity is essential to their success and should not be underestimated. These are, by definition, generalizations with each individual set of features allowing us to be more specific in our profiling.

Learning to read faces is a process requiring us to pay attention, a major challenge in today’s world. It is about making accurate observations, not judgements. When reading faces/people gut feeling is important but not enough. Having a demonstrable system is essential to establish credibility.

This is the first in a series of occasional articles on reading faces and body language. I’ll also be producing a number of short informational videos on the topic.

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Joseph McGuire is the owner of Clearsight Communications who provide personal evaluation services and training in the areas of senior level recruitment/promotion, negotiations, sales and HR. Individual consultation sessions are available both in person and via Skype. He is also in demand for group presentations, private functions and conferences. For further information email: