Face Management Theory: Modern Conceptualizations and Future Directions

By Alexander E. Hopkins
2015, Vol. 7 No. 04 | pg. 5/6 |

Research on Face Negotiation Theory

The research on face negotiation theory in this paper will be organized chronologically, as opposed to thematically, to show how the research has evolved over time. According to Oetzel et al (2000), most prior research on issues surrounding face negotiation theory stems on the "substantive issues of resolving conflict (i.e., conflict styles) rather than relational and/or face issues (i.e., identity image concerns via facework)" (p. 398). While cross-cultural research has existed for many years, much of the research that laid the groundwork for face negotiation theory can be traced back to the mid-1980s and early-1990s. Hofstede (1991) studied several cultures and concluded that (1) China has a large power distance and is collectivistic; (2) Germany has a relatively small power distance and is moderately collectivistic; (3) Japan has a large power distance and is moderately collectivistic; and (4) the U.S. has a relatively small power distance and is individualistic (p. 23).

However, Hofstede's research has been criticized on the grounds that: (1) the data was collected from an organization's employee base that already had a strong organizational culture; (2) the sample sizes of each country was unequal; (3) the power distance dimensions reveal the arbitrary nature of the operationalization of variables; (4) the theory was developed from a Westernized perspective, as opposed to a cross-cultural one and (5) the variable of paternalism, the extent to which it is appropriate for managers to take a personal interest in the private lives of workers, was not included (Fernandez et al, 1997, pp. 44-45).

In 1992, Hamilton & Haigwara performed research on responsibility across the U.S. and Japan. Hamilton & Haigwara (1992) defined responsibility as "a process of social negotiation about what the actor did and was supposed to do" (p. 175). They believed that a responsibility judgment involves at least two steps: (1) deciding what procedural or substantive rules, if any, apply to the actor who is to be judged and (2) looking at the actor's roles and deeds (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 159). However, they were quick to add that responsibility depended heavily upon the parties and culture "in which the actions are embedded" (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 175).

The researchers found that the Japanese were more likely to apologize than Americans, writing, "The more collectivistic or contextual nature of Japanese social relationships leads us to expect that Japanese are more likely to apologize in order to maintain relationships, and less likely to make aggressive responses such as denials" (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, pp. 166-167). Hamilton & Haigwara (1992) figured that the reason behind this was due to the Japanese legal system's heavy reliance on formal, public apology as punishment for an offense (pp. 167).

In their study of 32 American (16 males and 16 females) and 25 Japanese (12 males and 13 females) sample study, the researchers found several overlapping concerns between the two cultures, including being late for school, gender differences and the role of accounts. Both American and Japanese males reported getting into trouble more often than either group of females, while American students used more situations that would call for accounts" (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 169). However, Americans often had the accounts that were, more often than not, more defiant towards authority and less apologetic (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 169). Thus, the researchers' hypothesis that the Japanese would be more avoiding proved correct. Since the Japanese students were less defiant towards authority, they could avoid trouble altogether by not offering accounts or apologies.

Hamilton & Haigwara's (1992) research found three types of roles: denial, apology and consensus (p. 165). If a person used a denial tactic, they may be less powerful and thus "may be less willing to antagonize an offended party who is their superior" (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 165). Hamilton & Haigwara (1992) explained that an outright denial of an act may be able to save a long standing relationship, writing, "Since they usually anticipate renewed interaction, they should be less willing to offer an account that may serve to aggravate the situation than they might in a situation involving a casual acquaintance or a stranger" (p. 165).

A denial will thus remove any responsibility, as opposed to acknowledging it. On the other hand, Hamilton & Haigwara (1992) found that apologies were utilized when solidarity was high between superiors and subordinates (p. 166). Surprisingly, apologies were used more often in vertical relationships than horizontal ones, due to fear (as opposed to genuine remorse) being the primary motivating factor (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 166). Consensus was more often used in a parent-child relationship because it was up to the parent to explain the logic behind a decision (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 166).

Hamilton & Haigwara's (1992) research also found three aspects that influence the interplay between roles and deeds: (1) the impact of hierarchies of subordination and authority on responsibility; (2) the effects of diverse social relationships on responsibility; and (3) the impact of cultural diversity (p. 161). Further, two types of dimensions were classified for social relationships: (1) horizontal, where people are seen as intimates, strangers or acquaintances; and (2) vertical, where people are seen as either superiors, subordinates or equals (Hamilton & Haigwara, 1992, p. 161). Hamilton & Haigwara's (1992) relational social dimensions deepened the knowledge base for face negotiation theory because, in addition to predictable individualistic/collectivistic cultural pattern alignments, there were also predictable power distances between them.

For example, if a country was individualistic, they often had a small power distance. Hence, many social interactions were horizontal in nature. Of course, on a more microscopic level, there will always be areas where there are almost-exclusively horizontal and vertical social dimensions, regardless of the individualistic/collectivistic and power distance classifications. For example, in most countries, a business district would often have a vertical social dimension because there are many workers and supervisors within the culture.

In a follow-up to Hamilton & Haigwara's (1992) study, Cupach & Imahori (1993) researched the facework strategies between 114 American students and 57 Japanese students. Regarding Americans, Cupach & Imahori (1993) wrote, "US Americans opted for the strategies of Avoidance (21.8%), Account (15.5%), and Humor (12.7%) whereas Japanese used Avoidance (28.6%), Remediation for Self (17.9%), and Remediation for Other/Both (12.5%) strategies" (p. 437). Likewise, the researchers found that the Japanese students were more likely apologetic towards themselves, in addition to others (Cupach & Imahori, 1993, p. 438). Some of these results contradict Hamilton & Haigwara's (1992) study, including how avoidance was the most-widely used facework strategy among American students in Cupach & Imahori's (1993) study. However, the results are more confirmatory when it was observed that, on average, Cupach & Imahori's (1993) study had a higher percentage of Japanese students using the avoidance strategy.

Within Cupach & Imahori's (1993) study, participants were asked to work together in teams and be open to an unexpected "shared embarrassment" scenario. The results were virtually identical to the unexpected "single-person embarrassment" situation. The researchers found that, "Japanese respondents used remediation strategies to repair the predicament for the responsible other and/or for themselves (i.e.. Remediation for Other/ Both) the most (37.5%)" (Cupach & Imahori, 1993, pp. 438-439).

Thus, compared to the American students, it can be inferred that the Japanese students were more empathetic towards their peer, as well as to foreigners. Indeed, the results from the research study suggests that the American students preferred to use a different strategy. The researchers noted, "For US Americans, Account, Remediation for Other/Both, and Support tie for being the first choice (21.4% each), followed by Humor (14.3%) (Cupach & Imahori, 1993, p. 439).

Tinsley (1998) was one of the first researchers to not only compare the Japanese to Americans, but also Germans as well. As her research progressed, she discovered that each country was unique in how it solved problems. The Japanese, unsurprisingly, preferred a "deferring to status power" model more than either the U.S. or Germany (Tinsley, 1998, p. 322). In contrast, the Germans were more "by-the-book" and preferred "applying regulations" to a given problem solving scenario (Tinsley, 1998, p. 322). The U.S. was a middle ground between Japan and Germany, as they preferred to listen to all sides and use an "integrating interests" model (Tinsley, 1998, p. 322).

When comparing these results to Hofstede's (1991) study, some of the results are surprising, while others are not. Japan's large power distance and moderately collective nature is not surprising, as a large power distance is often indicative of a vertical hierarchy. In other words, the Japanese would want to defer to authority, especially when legal, cultural and workplace norms dictate it. A collectivistic consensus that each person should follow this mandate is a way that allows Japan to maintain an orderly society. However, compared to Germany and the U.S., this is not the only way to maintain a regulated society.

Germany's small power distance and moderately collectivistic nature is somewhat surprising. A small power distance is often indicative of a horizontal social dimension, meaning that people would see each other as equals. On the one hand, an "applying regulations" model is puzzling for Germany because an "integrating interests" model would allow for a more collective consensus among more informal, horizontal interactions. On the other hand, Germany is known as a precise, detail-oriented country. Thus, these results may not be surprising.

The U.S. results are similar to Germany's in the sense that the power distance is logical, but the individualistic social dimension may be confusing. An "integrating interests" makes sense for a small power distance, as it suggests teamwork in the form of informal, horizontal interaction. However, this model is puzzling on the individualistic level because it begs the question: why would the U.S. have an "integrating interests" model when this model is all about collective bargaining? An answer may be that, as an individualistic nation, the U.S. is not encouraging everyone to be selfish and "out for themselves." Rather, the U.S. is recognizing that each person is empowered to make their own decision as to how best to solve a problem. The diversity of opinions is one of the hallmarks of American democracy.

From a more Westernized perspective, Caplan & Samter (1999), studied the role of facework in younger and older adults' evaluations of social support messages. Caplan & Samter (1999) define supportive communication as speech acts that are recognized within a culture as intending to convey assistance (p. 246). One of the hallmarks of supportive communication is that it has a "predictive utility" towards solving problems (Caplan & Samter, 1999, p. 246). The study determined which generation of adults would find social support messages supportive and which would not. In the process, subjects were measured on why they did or did not think a support message was effective.

The results from the younger adults indicated two weak, but significant interactions. First, "there was a speech act by negative politeness interaction, whereby the main effect of speech act was influenced by whether a message honored or threatened negative face" (Caplan & Samter, 1999, p. 252). In other words, young people paid more attention to their own reaction elicited by the speech act, as opposed to the message that the speech act was attempting to convey. Second, "the main effect of speech act was influenced by whether a message was responding to an emotional- or instrumental-support situation" (Caplan & Samter, 1999, p. 252). In other words, younger adults categorized whether the speech act was affecting their emotional or problem solving capabilities.

For older adults, positive politeness produced a significant effect because "Older participants in Study 2 rated messages designed to honor positive face significantly more favorably" (Caplan & Samter, 1999, p. 252). This finding is similar to the young adults, as older adults were still very attuned to the reaction attributed to the message. However, this finding goes a step further than the young adults study because the older adults study actually categorized the emotional response as being positive. Second, "Messages designed to convey instrumental support were rated significantly more favorably than emotional-support messages" (Caplan & Samter, 1999, pp. 254-255). Compared to the younger adults, the older adults were more pragmatic towards the messages they received. That is, the older adults looked more favorably on how messages could be used to inspire action, as opposed to just emotional feelings alone.

This study proved influential for face negotiation theory because the term predictive utility has become another benchmark in intercultural communication on how to define, explain and measure cultural norms. When predictive utility is high, respondents can generally predict how smoothly intercultural communication is proceeding. Even if this communication is foreign to one or more parties, as long as at least one party can negotiate communication, the communication could have useful, predictive utility. Likewise, this study suggests that intercultural communication will not only benefit from gaining cultural understanding, but from gaining generational understanding as well. Although culture can remain fairly uniform across a nation, it is never static. This explains why some younger generations would differ from older generations in their values and beliefs.

Oetzel et al (2000) performed a brief study between the U.S. and Japan that explored how people negotiate their face during conflicts with relative strangers and close friends. This study is arguably one of the most influential studies on face negotiation theory, as it separated face negotiation theory from Brown & Levinson's politeness theory. Confirming previous research, Oetzel et al (2000) found that, "Japanese respondents rated avoiding facework higher and integrating facework lower than did the U.S. respondents" (p. 414). Oetzel et al (2000) also found confirmatory research for the U.S., noting that the culture "is individualistic and thus concern for self and direct resolution of conflict to benefit both parties are a primary focus during conflict" (p. 414). Extending research from the power distance variable and Brown & Levinson's (1987) politeness theory, the researchers were able to deepen the knowledge base for a variable called locus of face, defining it as, "the degree of concern for self- and other-face" (Oetzel et al, 2000, p. 399; Ting-Toomey & Kurogi, 1998, p. 191).

Locus of face became a necessary variable to examine because it attempted to solve four problems associated with politeness theory. First, politeness theory has only been used in a domestic context, as opposed to an international one. This is not entirely surprising, as politeness theory was influenced by Erving Goffman's work on face and facework, which was almost an exclusively Westernized perspective. Second, politeness theory has not been specifically applied to conflict (Oetzel et al, 2000, p. 399). Recall that the discussion on politeness theory only focused on strategies to address conflicts towards one other party. Third, locus of face focuses on interest in future interactions, which politeness theory does not address (Oetzel et al, 2000, p. 399). Although politeness theory could solve an immediate problem, it says nothing about whether either party would want to interact again. The probability of future interaction is important because, not only can it can be used as a yardstick to determine the effectiveness of the response towards an immediate, face-threatening act, but it can also prime future research to determine a pattern of facework strategies.

Fourth and finally, while politeness theory can identify the variables that create a face-threatening act, there is no explanation on the substance of the face-threatening message itself (Oetzel et al, 2000, p. 399). This is extremely important, regardless of whether this is examined in a domestic or international context. In a domestic context, the message may not be intended to be interpreted literally. For example, a statement could be integrated with sarcasm, which would change the entire meaning of the message. If examined within an international context, the situation becomes more complex, due in part to cultural relativity. For example, from a Westernized perspective, bribery is criminalized. However, in countries such as India, the practice is viewed more as a prerequisite for business. To make matters even more complicated, different cultural norms are even more diverse than the number of global countries. On a more microscopic level, for example, Great Britain's fragmented culture has differing norms for specific areas because there is no unified British identity. Rather, there is an allegiance to a specific area, including urban metropolises like Manchester and Birmingham.

Oetzel et al (2001) performed a study that analyzed face and facework strategies between the U.S., Germany, China and Japan. Specifically, they sought to not only classify self-construals and power distance, but also more culturally-unique variables, such as national culture and situational features (including status and relational closeness) (Oetzel et al, 2001, p. 236). Unlike most previous studies on face negotiation theory, this study included China in the research. The specific cultural conceptualizations of face were different for each country. In China, there are two types of face: lien (or lian) and mien-tzu (or mianzi) (Chang & Holt, 1994, p. 100; Gao, 1998, p. 467). Lien corresponds to the moral character of an individual, while mien-tzu refers to the upwards social status achieved through life's successes (Oetzel et al, 2001, p. 236). In Japan, there are two types of faces: (1) mentsu, an interdependent conceptualization of a positive social reputation gained from life's successes; and (2) taimen, the public appearance that one presents to others (Chiappini, 2005, p. 217; Morisaki, 1994, p. 6). Both the U.S. and Germany have one face. However, in Germany, the face is called gesicht, which translates into the social image we present to others (Oetzel, 2001, pp. 236-237).

Although the majority of the variables yielded completely different results, the researchers were able to come to a universal conceptual definition of face for all the countries. They noted, "In all of these countries, face is associated with respect, honor, status, reputation, credibility, competence, family/network connection, loyalty, trust, relational indebtedness, and obligation issues" (Oetzel et al, 2001, p. 237). After completing their study, the researchers were able to extend the research by Sattler (1965) and Buss (1980) to find 13 different types of facework behavior that could be used in conflicts with close friends or relative strangers. These are: "(a) aggression, (b) apologize, (c) avoid, (d) compromise, (e) consider the other, (f) defend self, (g) express feelings, (h) give in, (i) involve a third party, (j) pretend, (k) private discussion, (l) remain calm, and (m) talk about the problem" (Oetzel et al, 2001, p. 239)

Oetzel & Ting-Toomey (2003) extended Tinsley's (1998) research and performed a study analyzing the facework strategies between the U.S., Japan and Germany. Confirming previous studies performed by Hamilton & Haigwara (1992), Cupach & Imahori (1993) and Tinsley (1998), Oetzel & Ting-Toomey (2003) found that the Japanese preferred to defer to power status more than either the U.S. or Germany. On the contrary with Germany and the U.S., Oetzel & Ting-Toomey (2003) found that independence is associated positively with self face, which supports a positive association with dominating conflict styles (p. 615). With a collectivistic culture like Japan, they were more likely to use "more avoiding and less integrating than members of individualistic cultures" (Oetzel et al, 2003, p. 615). Thus, members of collectivistic cultures were more likely to "have higher other- and self-face concerns than members of individualistic cultures" (Oetzel et al, 2003, p. 615).

Interestingly, in all of the countries they studied, Oetzel et al (2003) found that the self-construals did not have a direct on conflict styles, but instead, the self-construals had an indirect effect that was mediated through face concerns (p. 615). This would appear to be an unusual result for both collectivistic and individualistic countries. Recall a self-construal is made up of one's self image consisting of the independent self and an interdependent self. Collectivistic countries would pay very close attention to their public image, especially since they want to avoid conflict. However, the most puzzling aspect is that the collectivistic cultures were less likely to use an integration strategy during problem solving. The confusion also arises on the individualistic level, as self-construals would have a high degree of other and self-face concerns.

However, Oetzel & Ting-Toomey (2003) felt that face negotiation theory could still be integrated into the three conflict styles identified by Tinsley (1998): "deferring to status power," "applying regulations," and "integrating interests" (p. 616-617).

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Recent technological advancements have had a drastic impact on the way individuals communicate. In this research, previous studies were analyzed, field observations were conducted, and an online survey was administered to determine the level of engagement individuals have with their cell phones, other technologies and with each... MORE»
The evolution of social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., have changed the way we look at relationships. Social networking sites have become a popular place to meet and connect with other people. They... MORE»
Instagram allows users to share a snapshot of their lives with a mass audience in a matter of seconds. This capability and power has not gone unnoticed by celebrities, who are highly aware of the impact their social media accounts have on fans and the relationships they create. The purpose of this study is to find fan engagement... MORE»
This research examined how people experiencing homelessness use the social media platforms of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Through 15 interviews at a day shelter in a central North Carolina city, the author discovered... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Business & Communications

2021, Vol. 13 No. 09
This research lies at the nexus of political communication theory relating to emotional affect and political processing and the burgeoning field of sentiment analysis. News coverage can affect opinion both through the information it provides and... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 06
This research study explores factors that present barriers to reporting workplace incidents and contribute to cultures of non-report. The research purpose was to explore human, workplace/organizational, and external factors identified by industrial... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 8 No. 11
In its beta release, Google Glass was positioned as a groundbreaking technology - a glimpse into a future that has long been promised in science fiction. It was met with media fanfare and consumer interest, despite costing more than most PCs on... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Predicting the future of the news industry begins with understanding the history of newspapers and the current news delivery landscape. Because the Internet has brought fundamental shifts to news distribution, successful organizations of the future... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Instagram allows users to share a snapshot of their lives with a mass audience in a matter of seconds. This capability and power has not gone unnoticed by celebrities, who are highly aware of the impact their social media accounts have on fans and... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Since its development, YouTube, the world's third most popular online destination, has transformed from a video-sharing site into a job opportunity for content creators in both new and mainstream media. Based on content analysis, the study examined... Read Article »
2016, Vol. 7 No. 1
Today, more than 15 million Americans practice yoga, making the ancient Indian discipline synonymous with the Western society's culture of wellness. As a way to market themselves, practitioners and instructors of yoga have utilized Instagram &ndash... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


Finding Balance in Graduate School
How to Read for Grad School
7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School