What about Face?

The idea of “face” holds a place in personal as well as business vocabulary.  Face appears in most regions and cultures and equates to the presence of prestige or honor in interaction.  Just as one can possess face when interaction occur within the parameters of accepted norms, face can be lost due to certain situations.  Losing face relates to being humiliated in public or literally being unable to “show one’s face” in public out of embarrassment.  It arose in the West from the Chinese phrase “tiu lien.”

Overtime, it has grown to include being challenged in public, losing one’s temper, interacting too directly, or failing to show the appropriate respect.  Most of us at one time or another referred to a fear of someone losing face.  On a regular basis, I hear employees discuss how someone lost face after being challenged in a meeting or handled in an overly aggressive way in front of peers.  It only makes sense that I do not want to show my face at work, if our boss has embarrassed us.

Conversely, “saving face” evolved as the opposite of “losing face.”  It first appeared in a British publication in 1899 and described how the writer could still show his face in the city since his dignity had been saved.  The act of saving face relates to suppressing negativism and emotions, showing appropriate respect, and avoiding shameful situations when interacting with others.  How often have you considered your choices and weighted options based on how the other person could save face? Just recently, a group of employees described how they needed to “provide a way out” for their boss that would allow him save face.  Meaning, they offered a reasonable explanation for a mistake that gave their boss a more reasonable excuse for this poor choice of actions than reality to avoid a shameful situation.

Some might consider face an Asian phenomenon, but anywhere humans interact, there is concern with protecting ones credibility or “face.”  So, what are some straightforward ways we preserve face of those around us?

  • avoid pointing out the other person’s mistakes in a public manner;
  • provide sincere compliments when a person has earned it;
  • show respect in verbal as well as body language when dealing with superiors;
  • compromise when a positive exchange can still be arrived at;
  • refrain from making sure everyone knows your right, even if you are;
  • avoid calling someone a liar even if they are less than truthful.
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