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Face-Negotiation Theory
Stella Ting-Toomey

CULTURAL CONTEXT: INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION


  1. Introduction.
    1. Stella Ting-Toomey’s face-negotiation theory helps to explain cultural differences in response to conflict.
    2. A basic assumption is that all people negotiate “face.”
      1. Face is a metaphor for our public self-image – the way we want others to see us and treat us.
      2. Facework refers to specific verbal and nonverbal messages that help to maintain and restore face loss, and to uphold and honor face gain.
    3. Our identity can always be called into question, which inevitably leads to conflict and vulnerability.
    4. Facework and corresponding styles of handling conflict vary from culture to culture.
    5. Face-negotiation theory postulates that the facework of people from individualistic cultures like the United States or Germany will be strikingly different from the facework of people from collectivistic cultures like Japan or China.
    6. Ting-Toomey suggests that face maintenance is the crucial intervening variable that ties culture to people’s ways of handling conflict.
  2. Collectivistic and individualistic cultures.
    1. Harry Triandis says that there are three important distinctions between collectivistic and individualistic cultures—the different ways members perceive self, goals, and duty.
    2. Japan and the U.S. represent collectivistic and individualistic cultures, respectively.
    3. Whereas Japanese tend to value collective needs and goals (a we-identity), Americans tend to value individualistic needs and goals (an I-identity).
    4. Whereas Japanese tend to perceive others in us/them categories and attach little importance to pursuing outsiders’ attitudes or feelings, Americans assume that every person is unique and reduce uncertainty by asking questions.
  3. The multiple faces of face.
    1. Face is a universal concern because it is an extension of self-concept.
      1. Ting-Toomey defines face as “the projected image of one’s self in a relational situation.”
      2. Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson define face as the public self-image that every member of society wants to claim for himself/herself.
      3. Taiwanese writer Lin Yutang called face “a psychological image that can be granted and lost and fought for and presented as a gift.”
    2. The meaning of face differs depending on differences in cultural and individual identities.
    3. Face concern focuses on whose face a person wants to save.
      1. One can save one’s own face or the face of others.
      2. Those in individualistic cultures tend to be more concerned with preserving their own face, whereas people in collectivistic cultures value maintaining the face of the other party.
    4. Mutual face is where there’s an equal concern for both parties’ image, as well as the public image or their relationship.
    5. Face-restoration is the facework strategy used to stake out a unique place in life, preserve autonomy, and defend against loss of personal freedom.
      1. It is the typical face strategy across individualistic cultures.
      2. It often involves justifying one’s actions or blaming the situation.
    6. Face-giving is the facework strategy used to defend and support another’s need for inclusion.
      1. It means taking care not to embarrass or humiliate the other in public.
      2. It is the characteristic face strategy across collectivistic cultures.
    7. Although cultural difference is not absolute, people from collectivisitic and individualistic cultures tend to privilege other-face and self-face, respectively.
  4. Predicts styles of conflict management.
    1. Based on the work of M. Afzalur Rahim, Ting-Toomey identified five distinct responses to situations in which there is an incompatibility of needs, interests, or goals.
      1. Avoiding (withdrawal)
      2. Obliging (accommodating)
      3. Compromising (bargaining)
      4. Integrating (problem solving)
      5. Dominating (competing)
    2. Building from this work, Ting-Toomey and colleague John Oetzel (University of Waikato, New Zealand) have made their theory more complex, yet better able to explain and predict conflict behavior around the world.
  5. Self-construal: Varied self-images within a culture.
    1. Ting-Toomey recognizes that people within a culture differ on the relative emphasis they place on individual self-sufficiency or group solidarity.
    2. She discusses the dimension of self-construal (or self-image) in terms of the independent and interdependent self, or the degree to which people conceive of themselves as relatively autonomous from, or connected with, others.
      1. The independent self is more self-face oriented. This view of self is most prevalent within individualistic cultures.
      2. Conversely, interdependent self is more concerned with other-face and is closely aligned with collectivistic cultures.
    3. Individuals within a culture have different images of self as well as varied views on the degree to which they try to give others face or restore their own face in conflict situations.
    4. Ting-Toomey built her theory around the foundational idea that people from collectivistic cultures are different in the way they manage face in conflict situations than those from individualistic cultures.
  6. Refining the relationship between face concern and conflict style
    1. Since the turn of the century, Ting-Toomey, Oetzel, and many other intercultural researchers have identified three primary conflict styles: dominance, avoidance, and integration.
    2. She and Oetzel now use them as umbrella terms to designate 3 clusters of 11 specific facework strategies.
      1. Dominance
        1. Defend: Stand up for one’s opinion.
        2. Express emotion: Verbally express one’s feelings.
        3. Aggression: Make a direct or passive effort to hurt the other.
      2. Avoidance
        1. Give in: Accommodate the other person.
        2. Pretend: Act like the conflict doesn’t exist.
        3. Third party: Seek outside help to resolve the conflict.
      3. Integration
        1. Apologize: Say sorry for past behavior.
        2. Private talk: Avoid public confrontation.
        3. Remain calm: Stay composed during the conflict.
        4. Problem solve: Engage in behaviors to join perspectives.
        5. Respect: Demonstrate regard for the other by listening.
    3. The three clusters are important because Ting-Toomey and Oetzel claim that the type of face concern people have will best predict the type of facework they’ll employ in conflict situations. They found:
      1. Those most concerned with self-face will try to dominate.
      2. People with an other-face concern will attempt to avoid conflict.
      3. Parties with a mutual-face concern will favor integrating strategies.
    4. Oetzel and Ting-Toomey conducted a four-nation study to test their revised theory with Chinese, Japanese, German, and American students.
      1. As for the dominance tactics, self-face is linked with both defending and aggression, but not emotional expression.
      2. As predicted, all three of the avoidance strategies—giving in, pretending, and seeking third-party help—are associated with high other-face concerns.
      3. What wasn’t anticipated is that three of the behaviors presumably fostered by mutual-face concern are shown to be associated with other-face concern alone.
  7. Application: Competent intercultural facework.
    1. Ting-Toomey’s ultimate goal for her theory goes beyond merely identifying the ways people in different cultures negotiate face or handle conflict.
    2. She wants the theory to help people manage intercultural conflict effectively.
    3. She says there are three requirements.
      1. Knowledge is the most important dimension of facework competence.
      2. Mindfulness shows a recognition that things are not always what they seem. It’s a conscious choice to seek multiple perspectives on the same event.
      3. Interaction skill is your ability to communicate appropriately, effectively, and adaptively in a given situation.
  8. Critique: Passing the objective test with a good grade.
    1. Ting-Toomey and Oetzel have conducted extensive quantitative survey research to craft and test an objective theory that predicts that members of collectivistic cultures will manage conflict differently than members of individualistic societies will.
    2. Then they use the constructs of self-construal and face concern to explain why that’s so. Ting-Toomey has laid out “conflict face-negotiation theory” (which she now calls it) in 24 testable hypotheses.
    3. Given the complex nature of culture, she has made the choice to sacrifice simplicity for validity, which makes the theory tougher to grasp.
    4. For more than two decades as a third-party neutral mediator, Em has found the theory has practical utility.

 


CHANGE TO View by Type

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by Theory














Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more

Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions
are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Face-Negotiation Theory
Stella Ting-Toomey

CULTURAL CONTEXT: INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION


  1. Introduction.
    1. Stella Ting-Toomey’s face-negotiation theory helps to explain cultural differences in response to conflict.
    2. A basic assumption is that all people negotiate “face.”
      1. Face is a metaphor for our public self-image – the way we want others to see us and treat us.
      2. Facework refers to specific verbal and nonverbal messages that help to maintain and restore face loss, and to uphold and honor face gain.
    3. Our identity can always be called into question, which inevitably leads to conflict and vulnerability.
    4. Facework and corresponding styles of handling conflict vary from culture to culture.
    5. Face-negotiation theory postulates that the facework of people from individualistic cultures like the United States or Germany will be strikingly different from the facework of people from collectivistic cultures like Japan or China.
    6. Ting-Toomey suggests that face maintenance is the crucial intervening variable that ties culture to people’s ways of handling conflict.
  2. Collectivistic and individualistic cultures.
    1. Harry Triandis says that there are three important distinctions between collectivistic and individualistic cultures—the different ways members perceive self, goals, and duty.
    2. Japan and the U.S. represent collectivistic and individualistic cultures, respectively.
    3. Whereas Japanese tend to value collective needs and goals (a we-identity), Americans tend to value individualistic needs and goals (an I-identity).
    4. Whereas Japanese tend to perceive others in us/them categories and attach little importance to pursuing outsiders’ attitudes or feelings, Americans assume that every person is unique and reduce uncertainty by asking questions.
  3. The multiple faces of face.
    1. Face is a universal concern because it is an extension of self-concept.
      1. Ting-Toomey defines face as “the projected image of one’s self in a relational situation.”
      2. Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson define face as the public self-image that every member of society wants to claim for himself/herself.
      3. Taiwanese writer Lin Yutang called face “a psychological image that can be granted and lost and fought for and presented as a gift.”
    2. The meaning of face differs depending on differences in cultural and individual identities.
    3. Face concern focuses on whose face a person wants to save.
      1. One can save one’s own face or the face of others.
      2. Those in individualistic cultures tend to be more concerned with preserving their own face, whereas people in collectivistic cultures value maintaining the face of the other party.
    4. Mutual face is where there’s an equal concern for both parties’ image, as well as the public image or their relationship.
    5. Face-restoration is the facework strategy used to stake out a unique place in life, preserve autonomy, and defend against loss of personal freedom.
      1. It is the typical face strategy across individualistic cultures.
      2. It often involves justifying one’s actions or blaming the situation.
    6. Face-giving is the facework strategy used to defend and support another’s need for inclusion.
      1. It means taking care not to embarrass or humiliate the other in public.
      2. It is the characteristic face strategy across collectivistic cultures.
    7. Although cultural difference is not absolute, people from collectivisitic and individualistic cultures tend to privilege other-face and self-face, respectively.
  4. Predicts styles of conflict management.
    1. Based on the work of M. Afzalur Rahim, Ting-Toomey identified five distinct responses to situations in which there is an incompatibility of needs, interests, or goals.
      1. Avoiding (withdrawal)
      2. Obliging (accommodating)
      3. Compromising (bargaining)
      4. Integrating (problem solving)
      5. Dominating (competing)
    2. Building from this work, Ting-Toomey and colleague John Oetzel (University of Waikato, New Zealand) have made their theory more complex, yet better able to explain and predict conflict behavior around the world.
  5. Self-construal: Varied self-images within a culture.
    1. Ting-Toomey recognizes that people within a culture differ on the relative emphasis they place on individual self-sufficiency or group solidarity.
    2. She discusses the dimension of self-construal (or self-image) in terms of the independent and interdependent self, or the degree to which people conceive of themselves as relatively autonomous from, or connected with, others.
      1. The independent self is more self-face oriented. This view of self is most prevalent within individualistic cultures.
      2. Conversely, interdependent self is more concerned with other-face and is closely aligned with collectivistic cultures.
    3. Individuals within a culture have different images of self as well as varied views on the degree to which they try to give others face or restore their own face in conflict situations.
    4. Ting-Toomey built her theory around the foundational idea that people from collectivistic cultures are different in the way they manage face in conflict situations than those from individualistic cultures.
  6. Refining the relationship between face concern and conflict style
    1. Since the turn of the century, Ting-Toomey, Oetzel, and many other intercultural researchers have identified three primary conflict styles: dominance, avoidance, and integration.
    2. She and Oetzel now use them as umbrella terms to designate 3 clusters of 11 specific facework strategies.
      1. Dominance
        1. Defend: Stand up for one’s opinion.
        2. Express emotion: Verbally express one’s feelings.
        3. Aggression: Make a direct or passive effort to hurt the other.
      2. Avoidance
        1. Give in: Accommodate the other person.
        2. Pretend: Act like the conflict doesn’t exist.
        3. Third party: Seek outside help to resolve the conflict.
      3. Integration
        1. Apologize: Say sorry for past behavior.
        2. Private talk: Avoid public confrontation.
        3. Remain calm: Stay composed during the conflict.
        4. Problem solve: Engage in behaviors to join perspectives.
        5. Respect: Demonstrate regard for the other by listening.
    3. The three clusters are important because Ting-Toomey and Oetzel claim that the type of face concern people have will best predict the type of facework they’ll employ in conflict situations. They found:
      1. Those most concerned with self-face will try to dominate.
      2. People with an other-face concern will attempt to avoid conflict.
      3. Parties with a mutual-face concern will favor integrating strategies.
    4. Oetzel and Ting-Toomey conducted a four-nation study to test their revised theory with Chinese, Japanese, German, and American students.
      1. As for the dominance tactics, self-face is linked with both defending and aggression, but not emotional expression.
      2. As predicted, all three of the avoidance strategies—giving in, pretending, and seeking third-party help—are associated with high other-face concerns.
      3. What wasn’t anticipated is that three of the behaviors presumably fostered by mutual-face concern are shown to be associated with other-face concern alone.
  7. Application: Competent intercultural facework.
    1. Ting-Toomey’s ultimate goal for her theory goes beyond merely identifying the ways people in different cultures negotiate face or handle conflict.
    2. She wants the theory to help people manage intercultural conflict effectively.
    3. She says there are three requirements.
      1. Knowledge is the most important dimension of facework competence.
      2. Mindfulness shows a recognition that things are not always what they seem. It’s a conscious choice to seek multiple perspectives on the same event.
      3. Interaction skill is your ability to communicate appropriately, effectively, and adaptively in a given situation.
  8. Critique: Passing the objective test with a good grade.
    1. Ting-Toomey and Oetzel have conducted extensive quantitative survey research to craft and test an objective theory that predicts that members of collectivistic cultures will manage conflict differently than members of individualistic societies will.
    2. Then they use the constructs of self-construal and face concern to explain why that’s so. Ting-Toomey has laid out “conflict face-negotiation theory” (which she now calls it) in 24 testable hypotheses.
    3. Given the complex nature of culture, she has made the choice to sacrifice simplicity for validity, which makes the theory tougher to grasp.
    4. For more than two decades as a third-party neutral mediator, Em has found the theory has practical utility.

 


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