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Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice: the woman behind the frownBy DANIEL J. VARGAS
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Condoleezza Rice, why do you frown so?

We understand that testifying in public before the independent commission investigating the events of 9/11 is hardly a joyous occasion. And not that we’d expect the national security adviser to smile.

Truth is, we’ve become accustomed to Rice’s many dour and sour expressions. And today could be a showcase for them while she’s on the hot seat testifying about what the Clinton administration told the incoming Bush staff about al-Qaida and what the new administration did with that intelligence.

Maybe it’s the job. Henry Kissinger, Sandy Berger and other former advisers had their trying facial moments, too.

Or maybe it’s us.

Helen Perry, an image consultant with more than 20 years’ experience working with Houston corporate executives, says that as a society we expect women to smile more than men, even when they are in positions of power.

“The same actions by which a man is perceived as powerful and assertive, a woman is penalized and judged as uptight,” she says. “We hold women to different standards.”

Whether Rice is addressing the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, waiting in the Oval Office, watching President Bush answer reporters’ questions or listening to the State of the Union address, Rice has a knack for stern, stoic and chilling looks — her own weapons of mass destruction.There’s the get-outta-my-face stare.The don’t-make-me-angry glance.The you’re-bothering-me frown.The you-talkin’-to-me? scowl.The no-you-didn’t face freeze.

Perry says she thinks Rice’s harsh expressions may be misunderstood.

“She doesn’t keep a poker face, that’s for sure,” she analyzes, adding that Rice keeps a lot of tension in her forehead and clenched jaw. “But I would interpret the dour expressions as the seriousness in which she takes her job and her extreme dedication to the president.”

Still, with communication being 55 percent appearance, Perry says, and the fact that the public doesn’t know Rice personally, those expressions can send an unapproachable, negative vibe.

“It would behoove her to lighten up a little bit,” she says. “If I were coaching her, I’d bring her somewhere in the middle. I’d soften (her look.)”

Nicholas Boothman, an expert in face-to-face communication and author of How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less, says people such as Rice “pull some pretty strange faces when they’re processing information.”

“She’s a detailed thinker, and that’s what detailed thinkers do,” he says. “They furrow their brows or bite their lips. She probably thinks things through like a chess player would do.”

What Rice has in her favor, Perry says, is her professional wardrobe and polished speaking skills. “Well, her dress is impeccable,” she says. “Now, as far as her articulation, she’s an incredible orator. She’s one of the most well-spoken people.”

Perry says she’d have Rice unclench that jaw and unfurrow her brow for a less-tense expression. At the same time, Rice must come across as authentic and sincere, she adds.

“It’s quite a juggling act,” Perry says

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