Although I’m sure I have a very high need for affiliation, I am a classic American who looks out for myself when the chips are down. As much as I hate to admit that, I’ve noticed as of late that it’s really true. I have a really close relationship with my best friend, and I put a lot of time and energy into him. But try as I might to truly look out for his best interests first, I always end up getting in the way. He sees that I do give a lot, but only when it’s convenient for me to do so. When it really starts infringing on me, my tendency is to do what’s best for me and separate myself from the situation a little bit. Ting-Toomey would say that my face concern is for myself: In conflict I become much more aggressive than cooperative. My face need is negative as I strive for autonomy when I just can’t be bothered anymore. So putting the two together, I spend time working on face-restoration by trying to give myself freedom and space.
This theory provides further insight into the different ways my boyfriend and I approach conflict. I don't shy away from direct conflict with close friends and family members. For example, I would not hesitate before asking someone to be quiet if I was trying to fall asleep, but I know of at least two occasions where Eric has lain awake for hours rather than ask an inconsiderate person to be quiet. I want a quick resolution, but he would rather avoid confrontation and hope that the situation will improve on its own. (Note: before you worry about us-we both value and encourage honest discussion of any problems in our relationship). Eric, who came to the U.S. from China seven years ago, probably feels that a direct request would shame the other person. As an American of Jewish background, I think that honest expression and exchange of information is the obvious way to handle conflict. In my family, respect wasn't a matter of knowing your place in the hierarchy; respect meant that everyone, regardless of age, could defend their view. Our conflicts were based on self-face strategies. Despite its sound, self-face strategies aren't necessarily more selfish than face-giving strategies. For me, directly confronting someone is respectful because it gives that person the chance to change or alter their behavior. Keeping my resentment or annoyance inside withholds that opportunity. If I am engaging in rude behavior, I want someone to tell me so I can change. I feel humiliated if I discover that I have consistently unknowingly offended someone and have been the object of resentment. So, while another person avoids confrontation in order to spare another's feelings, I show consideration through honest, direct expression which provides the other with the chance to save face.
When I moved to Japan as a 12 year old I really had no concept of collectivism. The world revolved around me and how I was doing and how I was getting over culture shock. I thought it strange to ride on the train everyday to-and-from school with quiet, serious people. My perception wasn't helped when I sat down in what turned out to be a reserved-elderly seat on the bus and was publicly chewed out. I figured I had done something seriously wrong to be openly chewed out in Japanese and I was right. That incident woke me up, and from then on out I adopted the Japanese virtue of respect for the elderly whenever I could. I'm sure the people on the bus tried to give me subtle signs in order to help me save face, but I didn't catch on. I would suggest researching what to do in a different culture before visiting and instinctively acting.
The part of the theory that talked about giving face (collectivist cultures) and saving face (individualistic cultures) brought to mind my experiences with a good friend of mine who is an international student from SE Asia. She always seems more concerned about the problems that we, her closest friends, are dealing with than her own. She also tries to avoid confrontation and conflict. If conflict does arise, she avoids it. Rather than dominating or trying to control situations, she instead acts as a peacemaker. I see the differences most strongly in her dealing with emotions. I can't remember any occasions when she got angry or expressed strong emotions, which are typical of those of us from more individualistic cultures. She seems to be always concerned with the consequences for all of our faces, not just hers.