Face Negotiation Theory
What is face negotiation theory? When was the last time you were having a conversation with someone and noticed their facial reactions? What did you do? Did it alter the way you pushed the conversation forward? In most cases, this is precisely what happens. While some may see an emotional reaction and take advantage of it to press their needs or desires, others may shift their manner of speech, change the subject, or otherwise be more concerned with how that individual is reacting or responding...
What is face negotiation theory?
When was the last time you were having a conversation with someone and noticed their facial reactions? What did you do? Did it alter the way you pushed the conversation forward?
In most cases, this is precisely what happens. While some may see an emotional reaction and take advantage of it to press their needs or desires, others may shift their manner of speech, change the subject, or otherwise be more concerned with how that individual is reacting or responding.
This is the crux of Face Negotiation Theory. In short, it focuses on how different people from different cultures can manage their interactions with others, relying on facial cues and reactions to guide their conversations.
By recognizing the emotional reactions of others that are inevitably etched in their face (facial features, according to this theory), then it can be used as a negotiation tool.
The theory also deals with cultural and individual identity and how different cultures place different values on these perceived factors. In other words, some cultures may place more emphasis on individual identity while others are more communally-focused.
The “face,” therefore, represents the identity of a person. So, for a person who wants to ‘save face,’ they will not only be exhibiting certain emotional characteristics, but their conversation or dealings with another will be shaped by that identity.
For example, someone who comes from a community-focused culture will be more concerned with how the community itself is being portrayed while someone from an individualistic culture, such as the U.S., their emphasis would be more on how they -the individual- is perceived.
Who created face negotiation theory?
Face Recognition Theory was developed in 1985 by Stella Ting-Toomey. Her theory was based on concepts that were not new, but her theory was revolutionary. The concepts she based her Face Recognition Theory on had originally been developed in 1978.
Those concepts focused on how people from different countries and cultures handled conversations and interactions, especially disagreements.
The focus on Face Recognition Theory is self-image. It holds that self-image is a universal phenomena; that everyone has some concept of self-image, or ‘face,’ and that it’s important to the individual and/or the community to have their outward self-image help upright.
Two Chinese Concepts
Ultimately, Stella Ting-Toomey’s theory is derived from Chinese concepts about personal image. They are called ‘mien-tzu’ and ‘lien.’
In brief, ‘Mien-tzu’ is focused on the external aspects of a person’s identity, such as where they sit socially, their authority in a given situation, the power they may hold, and the influence they can have.
‘Lien’ is about the internal focus. This would include morality and issues that focus on honor, integrity, or even feeling bad about a certain situation or circumstance.
Other influences on the Face Recognition Theory
Erving Goffman had previously expanded the Chinese concepts to Western models. This had more to do with cultural aspects, rather than merely individual constructs. In other words, the focus Goffman placed on these issues was more societal or cultural rather than simply about the individual himself or herself.
There was also work done by Stephen Levinson and Penelope Brown that influenced some aspects of Face Negotiation Theory. Their concepts were more focused on things like politeness and how politeness is a universal concept. Also, how being played can manifest itself through facial features and emotions.
This type of facial recognition is commonly viewed in most daily interactions with people. If you see someone who is downcast, looking away, or whose brow is furrowed, you’ll likely view them as someone who is angry or even hostile. However, somebody whose eyes are uplifted, looking into the eyes of the other individual, and who is smiling will be perceived as somebody who is happy, courteous, and responsive.
The Concept of “Face”
Inevitably, it can be difficult to properly understand Face Negotiation Theory without understanding what “face” means. It is a term that exists in almost all cultures.
It has been defined in many different ways. In the concept of Face Negotiation Theory, it is about a person’s social connections. It is about how they are perceived or, more specifically, how they may think they or their community, are perceived.
Even though Western cultures have become more individualistic, the individual plays a significant impact on how they perceive themselves based on how others also perceive them. In other words, you may be defined by your social existence, the way your friends, family, coworkers, and others see you.
This is what “face” essentially refers to: a perceived self-image or community image.
What are the four faces of face negotiation theory?
There are four faces of Face Negotiation Theory. They include:
· Face-Restoration or Self Negative-Face
· Face-Saving or Other Negative-Face
· Face-Assertion or Positive-Face
· Face-Giving or Other Positive-Face
Let us explore these for critical faces in brief.
Face-Restoration or Self Negative-Face
This is basically referring to the need for autonomy. This drives at the concept of personal, individual freedom and having the “space” to keep yourself from being impacted by others’ influences.
Face-Saving or Other Negative-Face
This component of the theory basically focuses on the other person. It essentially demonstrates respect for the other individual and recognizes their need for autonomy, “space”, or freedom. It is others’ focused rather than self-focused. If you have close friends whom you care about and look out for their best interest in your personal relationship with them, that’s ‘face-saving.’
Face-Assertion or Self Positive Face
When a person has a driving need to be accepted and included, this face-assertion or self positive-face component of the theory focuses on that. It is about the need to defend and protect one’s perceived rights to be part of an association, group, or inclusivity component. This is being seen in abundance throughout Western cultures today, especially when it comes to the rights of certain groups wanting ‘inclusion.’
Face-Giving or Other Positive Face
On the other side of the coin with regard to inclusion is the one in which a person is focused on the needs of another individual. The desire to defend and support their right or need for inclusion is a driving force of this component of the Face Negotiation Theory. In your group of friends, if there’s someone you are friendly with who wants to be part of your inner circle, and you stood up for them, that would fall in line with this component.
What role does culture play in face negotiation theory?
Culture will play a significant and perhaps most critical role when it comes to Face Negotiation Theory. How a culture uses communication style, techniques, word choices, and other factors will impact how they are viewed, or how their “face” is being presented for receipt.
For example, in some Asian cultures, making eye contact with someone who is in a position of power or authority over you can often be viewed as rude. Yet, in Western cultures, not making eye contact is also considered rude.
In a collectivist culture, there is a tendency for several individuals to make excuses for somebody who comes late, for example. While they don’t benefit from it, the idea is they are saving face for that person who was tardy.
Perhaps you’ve experienced that in your own life, a situation where you were in the wrong, but you had friends or classmates who stood up for you, even though they had nothing to gain their actions.
In that type of situation, the students may have felt it was better to save face for themselves as a collective group rather than to allow the teacher to get the upper hand over one or more of the students.
What are some examples of face negotiation theory?
There are numerous examples of Face Negotiation Theory, depending on where the focus originally comes from. For example, people who live in more Westernized cultures or countries tend to have more individualistic identities. People in Eastern countries, on the other hand, have a tendency to focus more on community or national components.
In terms of individualism, the individualistic person has a tendency to become more aggressive in conflict circumstances. They may become more guarded and determined to protect themselves or even dominate the conversation or negotiation.
A collectivist, on the other hand, is more focused on protecting the image of the community or culture. They will attempt to avoid conflict and have a tendency to be more accommodating.
The collectivist will also tend to compromise more and give in to the needs and preferences or desires of the other party.
The individual will more likely speak up for the rights and freedoms of others, but will do so from the viewpoint of being as independent as possible. For these people, there is a win/lose mentality.
In other words, if you wanted to “save face,” you’d feel that the other person has to “lose face.”
For the collectivist cultures, group needs take center stage as opposed to individual needs. In these cultures, communication tone, gestures, and words are measured in view of how the culture and community will be perceived.
Some Criticisms of Face Negotiation Theory
Of course, as with any theory, there are critics. Some of the basic criticisms involve the fact or component that individualistic behavior is becoming the norm in a growing number of cultures.
Take Japan, for example. Less than a century ago, the Japanese as a collective nation viewed honor far more importantly than individual survival. Today, thanks to the influence of Western society, there is less emphasis on community and more on individual pursuits.
When individual behavior expands and the focus is more on the person rather than a community, and individuals in the concept of Face Negotiation Theory are dealing with other “individuals,” then this theory no longer has much relevance.
It has also been criticized as being too generalized and that not all situations can be summarized in such basic terminology or concepts. Even the creator of Face Negotiation Theory, Stella Ting-Toomey, eventually came to realize that in collectivist cultures, people can have a driving desire to be protective of themselves. In other words, it’s not one or the other; you could care about your family, your community, or your nation and still be looking to “save face” for your own interests.
Finally, the theory has been updated and upgraded many, many times. The most recent was in 2005. As a result, some have argued that the original foundation of the theory has lost its footing and can no longer be applied in practical terms.
Overall, Face Negotiation Theory is a concept that seeks to help people communicate more effectively and to gain advantage during face-to-face negotiations or conversations.
When you’re talking to a professor, an employer, your parents, a spouse, or somebody else in a conversation is meaningful to both of you, but you don’t agree or may have to work negotiating, this theory can offer some empowerment.
However, it is limited in its scope and may have certain shortcomings that can lead to misunderstandings. Ultimately, though, what this theory does help to explain is how cultural upbringing, expectations, and individualistic ideologies can and often do impact communication.
The more you know about communication and how you can influence it, the more power you can have in those conversations in the future.
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