The Chinese place a high value on face-saving in both negotiation and everyday affairs. They try to leave the other a graceful way to retreat from any position taken. They take the time to frame their opposition in such a way that the other can agree without losing the good regard of associates. They do this in several ways.
The key to leaving the other side a face-saving way to retreat from their position lies not in manipulation or the clever phraseology of a demand or offer. It rests on conditioning the request for concession or other benefit on the motivations of the concession-maker and the values they wish to achieve.
For example, a buyer asking a seller for a further concession or benefit to close a deal might say, “I know from past experience that you are a fair and reasonable person, a person who believes that good business depends on a well-satisfied customer who benefits from the exchange. Your offer to sell at that price is appreciated but leaves us little room for healthy growth. We believe a lower price will benefit both of us because it would allow us to sell more to our customers and therefore buy more from you.” The seller who concedes to such a request does so without loss of face.
Another way to save face for those they oppose is by handling threats carefully. When, in the heat of negotiation, they are tempted to threaten someone, they avoid it. Threat, whether carried out or not, demeans the other. It treats them like a child. Threat, not carried out, results in the loss of face for the threatener.
On the other hand, when threatened, they respond by making light of it by saying, “You wouldn’t do a thing like that to someone like us.” Such a remark makes it easier for the threatener to later desist with little loss of face.
The Chinese, in their desire for social and business harmony, have built strong defenses against dysfunctional disagreement. Most important are the “QUANXI” tradition that provides family and friendship channels that serve to reduce the level of dissension in business, social and family affairs, as well as the tradition of “saving face,” which allows for gracious give and take, and retreat in place of continued discord.