Ever taken a personality test? I have. Many, in fact. The most popular one when I was in school in the 1990s was called the Meyers-Briggs personality test. It is a series of questions which you self answer and then at the end a score is tallied which puts you in a series of personality buckets – introvert/extrovert, Sensing/Intuition etc. As I went through the test at school I realized that I wanted my answers to nudge towards the coolest personality type…extrovert and intuition. My hopes were dashed when it turned out I was in the opposite bucket of what I had hoped for. Although it served the purpose of defining some interesting attributes of personality types it never really became a practical way for me to understand or manage people’s strengths and weaknesses. When you meet a person for the first time, it is hard to ask them to take a personality test so I could get to know them better!
But this problem was actually solved thousands of years ago in China through an ancient practice called Face Reading. Written references to this practice go back 600 BC but the earliest roots can be traced back to 2600 BC. I was first introduced to this practice in 2013 when I stumbled upon a seminar in Shanghai being taught in the subject. Even now in China this practice is not widely adopted or followed but my experience over the last years has put me in the camp of a firm believer that this is a great way to get a quick idea of how to manage people or understand the best way to communicate with them.
A blog post can do no justice to this topic but the core foundation of the practice is that the shape and features of the face determine personality types. Whaaat??…you might say. The shape of the face is genetic and determined by genes its got nothing to do with personality! That was my first reaction, but as in anything living…the environment can have a huge influence on the physical form of something. Communication between people has very little to do with the words or the actual voice but 70% of communication is through body language. Our brain has a massive 30% of it dedicated to visual processing and a large percentage dedicated to decoding facial features and expressions. So why do we biologically have such an inclination to decode the face to such detail? The face tells a lot about the emotional and thinking state of a person. The face is in fact a reflection of our internal state.
So when we have consistent emotions with certain personality types these characteristics will inevitably show up as consistent signs on the face. That is the foundation of Chinese Face Reading. One of the fastest ways to get a general idea of the personality of someone is to look at the shape of the face. In Chinese Face Reading these are broken down into 5 major types:
- Metal: Sharp high cheekbones. Personality is professional and seeks perfection. The archetype is the Defender – who value justice, perfection and wholeness but are often the last to accept change.
- Earth: Round, squarish face. Nurturing type personality caring about other people. The archetype is the Muse – who want to see others reach their full potential but can often drift into passivity.
- Water: low round cheeks. Stubborn and likes options. The archetype would be the Pioneer—curious, innovative, brave and optimistic but does not stick around for long term value building.
- Wood: rectangular face and bushy eyebrows. Likes to take command. The archetype is the Captain — who is confident and tireless to support a goal but can fall victim to issuing orders rather than inspiring.
- Fire: Oval egg shaped face. Passionate and likes to do many things. The archetype is the Magician – who is playful and delighting people around them but sometimes the mystery may look like fraud.
The above is a fairly generic description and there are many subtleties in Chinese Face Reading that give various types of insights. Now whether you believe in it or not, these are great tools to understand there are certain personality types and not everyone is the same nor is one better than another. Each has a unique strength and unique weaknesses that can be accepted for what they are. The power of this practice is that you just need to see someone’s face to get a gauge of their personality…no extensive conversation or tests needed. Confucius was born in 550BC just around the time that Face Reading was being written into texts and although he was not known for his teachings for Face Reading this one was a golden secret that he was wise not to teach so widely.