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The Leonardo DiCaprio factor? Study finds wider-faced men are better negotiators

July 30, 2014, 11:36 AM UTC
TAG Heuer Host 2013 Monaco Grand Prix Party
MONACO - MAY 25: Leonardo DiCaprio attends the TAG Heuer Host 2013 Monaco Grand Prix Party on May 25, 2013 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Didier Baverel/Getty Images for Tag Heuer)
Photo by Didier Baverel—Getty Images for Tag Heuer

Having a wider face like Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Carter or Leonardo DiCaprio gives men an edge at the negotiating table but also could hurt if compromise is required.

Those are two of the findings of a new study this month in The Leadership Quarterly journal that set out to understand what role men’s wider faces – width of the face divided by upper facial height – have on negotiating performance.

“These studies show that being a man with a wider face can be both a blessing and a curse, and awareness of this may be important for future business success,” said Michael P. Haselhuhn, an assistant management professor at the University of California, Riverside and the study’s co-author.

The work builds on earlier findings comparing wider-faced men and their narrow-faced counterparts by Haselhuhn and his co-authors, Elaine M. Wong, also of U.C. Riverside, and Margaret E. Ormiston of the London Business School. Previous research has found that wider-faced men have higher testosterone and are thus more aggressive. Wider-faced hockey players get more minutes in the penalty box, for example. They’re also more financially successful and have a better chance of getting a second date.

The three researchers already shown that firms whose male CEOs have wider faces – think Dell’s Michael Dell, or Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher – achieve superior financial results. In negotiations, Haselhun and Wong also found that wider-faced men demonstrate greater self-interest, deceive others and are more likely to cheat in order to increase their financial gain.

“The first paper we did looked at ethics and negotiations,” Haselhuhn said. “These guys are physically aggressive but you can’t walk into a boardroom and check a guy against the wall.”

He continued: “How does aggression play out in a corporate setting? Social aggression is lying and cheating. Indeed, we found that wide-faced guys were more likely to lie in a negotiation. This paper was a kind of a logical extension of that. Being aggressive in negotiations isn’t necessarily all about being unethical. It can just be (that) you are being persistent. You are being focused on your own self-interest.”

In the first experiment, the researchers set up a scenario in which a group of male undergrads were told they had landed a job and now had to negotiate a signing bonus. Those with the wider faces managed to get $2,200 more than those with narrower faces.

Similarly, in another scenario, the researchers found that when male MBA students with wider faces were selling a chemical factory they negotiated a higher sale price than men with a more narrow faces. When those same wide-faced men were in the buyer role, they negotiated a lower price than the narrow-faced men.

But it wasn’t all good news for men with wider faces. In a third experiment, male MBA students were asked to come up with a “creative solution” negotiate differences over the sale of a gas station. The problem, known as the Texoil negotiation exercise, meant that the lowest amount of money that the station owner would accept is greater than the highest amount of money that the buyer is authorized to spend.

This time, the wider-faced men “were less able to share information and collaborate to find a way to bridge that gap,” Haselhuhn said.

Nicholas Rule, principal investigator of the Social Perception and Cognition Lab in the psychology department at the University of Toronto ,and who was not part of the study, was intrigued by the findings.

“What’s particularly exciting about this work is that they were looking at the effects of facial-width-to-height-ratio in live interactions,” said Rule, an expert in the relationship between nonverbal behavior and leadership success.”Men are more aggressive in negotiations, tend to do better, but may not see the forest for the trees.”

No women were part of the study. The researchers focused on men, they said, because prior research has suggested that face-width-to-height ration is “particularly important” in male-to-male interactions. It is not “predictive of any changes in behavioral or psychological outcomes in women.”

Haselhuhn said he expects the findings to further help business leaders who already intuitively expect wide-faced men to be more self-interested, tough and competitive. As a result, they will typically avoid a fight with the wide-faced executive.

“When you are negotiating against somebody else, you want as much information as possible about how we should prepare and let’s anticipate how this negotiation is going to go,” he said. “This is one signal.”

Haselhuhn said the findings could also allow wide-faced men to change their strategy if they know they are going to be perceived as aggressive.

“Men should consider how their counterpart is going to view them,” he said. “If I have a wide face and the other guy expects me to be more competitive because wide-faced guys typically are and I really want to build a relationship, I know that I’d better be extra careful in starting off the negotiation on the right foot to build the level of trust.”