Face Negotiation Theory

Face Management theory acknowledges that individuals are concerned about how others perceive them. This theory is often referred to as the politeness theory. We work at maintaining a public image and when we fail at keeping up that appearance we "lose face" and may suffer some embarrassment. Public image is created through our interpersonal communication.

Key Terms:

Face, Facework, Face-restoration, Face-saving, Face-giving,Face-assertion, Languaculture, Mindful Intercultural Non Verbal Communication, LOW/HIGH Communication Framework


Face Negotiation Theory assumes that people in all cultures work to maintain face in all situations (Ting-Toomey, 1999). It further states that the root of conflict is based on self management on an individual and cultural level. The different types of individual and cultural identities are described as faces.

Face Negotiation Theory proposes the following:

  • People in all cultures try to maintain and negotiate face in all communication situations
  • Face is problematic when identities are questioned.
  • Cultural, individual and situational variables influence the selection of one set of face concerns over another (ie: self-oriented vs other oriented face saving)
  • Individualistic cultures prefer self oriented facework, and collectivistic cultures prefer other oriented facework.
  • Small power distance cultures prefer an “individuals are equal” framework, whereas large power distance cultures prefer a hierarchical framework.
  • Behavior is also influenced by cultural variances, individual, relational, and situational factors.
  • Competence in intercultural communication is a culmination of knowledge and mindfulness. (Ting-Toomey, 2005)

Cultural Aspects:

Face is a universal phenomenon. Everyone wants to be respected and needs a sense of self respect. How we manage strategies in maintaining, saving and honouring ones face differs across cultures.

LOW versus HIGH communication framework was developed by Edward T. Hall his focus is on all communication process LOW communication framework centers around individual values and focuses on verbal communication.

Immigrant cultures such as Canada, the US, and Australia tend to exhibit LOW context communication styles.

HIGH communication framework centers on group orientations and focuses on non verbal communication. Collective needs and goals context cultures have a longer history of their culture. Long-standing historical cultures such as Japan, South Korea, China tend to exhibit HIGH context communication styles.

Communication Barriers

There are three ways which culture interferes with cross-cultural understanding. The most common barrier is cognitive constraint. Cognitive constraints are world views, based on culture, which provide a backdrop for comparing new information to.

Second are behaviour constraints. Behaviour constraints are the ways in which people behave in different cultures. Each culture has its own rules about proper behaviour which affect verbal and nonverbal communication. Whether to engage in eye contact or how close you stand next to someone during a conversation, are considered rules of politeness that differ from culture to culture.

The final factor, emotional constraints, pertain to the ways in which cultures regulate the display of emotion. Each culture has rules pertaining to how emotional you can be in a situation. While some cultures deem it appropriate to express their emotions openly, other cultures choose to keep their emotions hidden.

Last modified: Monday, October 14, 2019, 3:25 PM