Face-saving is an action designed not to cause embarrassment to a person while holding a negotiation or a conversation (Folger, Poole & Stutman, 2008). In conflict and its resolution, face-saving is always geared towards preserving dignity, self-respect, personality, or good reputation of the people involved in the conflict, and negotiation. Face-saving, being one of the strategies involved in conflict negotiation, has seen scholars advancing several theories to explain this concept.
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Among the widely recognized and influential face-saving theories is the politeness theory that was put forward by Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson in 1978 in efforts to explain the expression of speakers’ intention to mitigate face-threatening acts (Barron, 2001, P.17). The theory is based on the assumptions that, involved parties are rational persons and the face aspect involves both the positive and negative parameters.
According to this theory, face-saving is for the mutual interest of both parties, with the positive face referring to the human search to belong, to be valued, accepted, recognized, and appreciated by others. On the other hand, negative face involves the basic human need for independence and autonomy; with the speech being acts-based and certain acts of speech being intrinsically face-threatening (Barron, 2001, P.17). The face-threatening acts can easily threaten the face of involved parties, either positively or negatively.
Another significant politeness theory is that put forward by Fraser in 1990 that assumes that, politeness is a central part of interactions and takes a discourse-based rather than speech act-based approach.
According to this theory, the parties begin their negotiation with specific notion with regard to rights and obligations of both parties based on their social relationship. This notion forms the conversational contract and the only way to stick to the contract terms is to act in a polite manner (Barron, 2001, P.20).
Leech’s theory of politeness is another very influential face-saving theory that seeks to differentiate between a speaker’s illocutionary goal and a speaker’s social goal, with the speech acts being influenced by the speaker’s utterances and the position the speaker seeks to adopt that try to portray a certain perception (Márquez-Reiter, 2000, P.8).
Other face saving theories include the Grice’s theory and face negotiation theory by Ting-Toomey that explains how various cultures manage conflict, interact, and communicate. All face saving theories are proposed to explain the need and role of politeness in negotiation and conflict resolution.
Face-saving, face giving, and face-loss, though different in their meaning, are also interrelated and are part of a negotiation process. Face-saving is the effort put to avoid embarrassments between parties involved in a negotiation.
Face giving is the action that is intended to defend and understand the inclusion of other party in the negotiation. It may involve understanding the other party’s culture, norms, and communication style.
Face-loss is an activity that leads to loss of dignity, self-esteem, and reputation to the other party involved in the negotiation. Face-loss mostly leads to humiliation and failure of negotiation process while face-saving and face giving normally lead to successful negotiations.
Conflict resolution specialists need to know the social phenomena related to face-saving, since social conditions are sometimes the cause of the conflict. For example, a given male behavior may be causing workplace conflict between the two genders, thus, to resolve it, it is necessary to understand social setup of both parties. Additionally, pervasive influences of the mother tongue on social behavior can significantly influence how both parties relate, perceive each other, and their level of emotions.
As a conflict resolution specialist, you can create a climate that promotes positive conflict interaction through analyzing any non-personal issue that might be the underlying cause of the conflict between the two parties and then focusing on non-personal, non-threatening face-saving efforts that can reduce personal blame games (Cecil & Rothwell, 2006, P.349). This approach reduces personal blames, leading to parties becoming less emotional and more rational in the approach to the negotiations.
If the conflict is more personal, the expert can adopt the analytical approach by analyzing all the factors that causes the conflict, coming up with all possible solutions to address the causes and then adopting the best solutions.
Barron, A. (2001). Acquisition in interlanguage pragmatics: learning how to do things with words in a study abroad context. NY: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
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Cecil, R.D. & Rothwell, W.J. (2006). Next Generation Management Development: The Complete Guide and Resource. NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Folger, J.P., Poole, M.S. & Stutman, R.K. (2008). Working through conflict: strategies for relationships, groups, and organizations. 6th Edition. NY: Allyn & Bacon/Pearson.
Márquez-Reiter, R. (2000). Linguistic politeness in Britain and Uruguay: contrastive study of requests and apologies. PA: John Benjamins Publishing Company.