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Face Negotiation Theory


In1985, Stella Ting-Toomey first proposed the face negotiation theory.This theory is mainly meant to explain how different cultures in theworld deal with conflicts. Self image of people from differentcultures determine how they communicate and deal with issues. Theface negotiation theory has undergone several iterations from itscreation. It is specifically meant to be applied in conflictsituations on the basis of identity management of the person involvedand their culture. Faces are the term used to describe the image of agroup or an individual. The society at large sees and evaluates facesbased on the values and norms of the culture (Ting-Toomey &ampKurogie, 1998). Usually a conflict develops when the image anindividual or a group has been threatened. Faces can be protected,saved or lost.


Locusof face is the degree of how much concern is put on others’ imagesor self image. It has an important role because it helps anindividual maintain a good image in front of their group and culture.It also reflects on the concerns of others for preserving theirimages as well as. It also reflects on the concerns of others forpreserving their images for good communication and interaction.People who come from collectivistic cultures use conflict styles ofintegration because mutual face or the image of the whole group is akey concern (Oetzel,Meares, Myers, &amp Lara, 2002). Onthe other hand people who come from an individualistic culture use aconflict style that is dominating because their key concern is mainlymaintaining a self face. This is because in an individualisticculture, the image of a person is independent from the image of thewhole group (Oetzel,Meares, Myers, &amp Lara, 2002).

Thereare several strategies that affect how cultures maintain and managetheir identities. Ting-Toomey explains how collectivist cultures hasmore emphasis on the image of the group as compared to individualistculture whereby self image is more significant than the image of thegroup (Ting-Toomey &amp Kurogie,1998). Power distance shows how astatus directly affects a society as well determine how culturesmanage their conflicts. If for example a culture has a relativelysmall power distance, this causes it to believe that equality isnatural and has to be worked for to be earned. Small power distanceis mostly observed in the individualistic cultures. Collectivistcultures on the other hand have a large power distance whichacknowledges inequality and its members born into power.


Likeseveral other theories, encounter conciliation theory has been testedand proven it is applicable in the true world. There are two majorstudies that have proven the importance of this theory. Both studiesinvestigate how face negotiation and lacework is applied to solveconflicts across various networks. The first study deals withinterpersonal conflict and the second one deal with conflicts betweensiblings and their parents (Ting-Toomey &amp Kurogie, 1998). StellaTing-Toomey in corporation with the Department of Journalism at theUniversity of New Mexico did a study to show how cultures affect howpeople communicate and deal with conflicts. They involved 768 peoplewith different cultures from Japan, china, United States and Germany.Japan and China represented the Collectivist cultures whereas theUnited States and Germany represented the individualist cultures.Each group was provided with a survey that in the manner they were toshare their views on the interpersonal conflict (Ting-Toomey,2005).

Theresults found were self face as well as other face related well withintegrating styles, collectivist and individualistic culture directlyor indirectly have effects on conflict styles. The second study wasface in conflicts between siblings and their parents. This study wascarried out by Martha Idalia, Stella Ting-Toomey, Richard Harris,John Oetzel and Richard Wilcox. They observed how culture affectsfacework in conflict between siblings and their parents. 449 peoplewere involved in the study. These were people from Mexico, Germany,the United States and Japan. The survey put emphasis on behaviors offacework and the apprehensions of face. The observations were asfollows people with self construal experienced strong effects onfacework and face concerns positively and also demonstrated avoidingfacework behaviors (Oetzel,Meares, Myers, &amp Lara, 2002).

Powerdistance had very little effect on self face, avoiding facework,other face and leading facework. National culture had relativelymedium effect with individualistic cultures and small distancecultures have more mutual face and self face. National cultureapplies more integrating and dominating facework at the same timeless of avoiding facework (Oetzel,Meares, Myers, &amp Lara, 2002). Thesurvey also found that Germans applied defending and self face morethan Americans. Mexicans applied fewer expressions than Japanese.Siblings in conflict with their parents used more expression andrespect with fewer pretence and aggression as compared to parents inconflict with their siblings.

Thethird application is the study of face negotiation with mothers.Mothers in general do not like to be vulnerable so they develop animage. A study was done on the face of mothers and their reasons andthe findings were as follows mothers fear rejection and criticism byothers. They love approval and acceptance and they put an avoidanceface because it deflects others attention. Motherhood is demandingand mothers are faced with guilt from internal pressures like notspending enough time on the values and insecurities of theirchildren. This may lower their esteems because of fearing judgment ontheir motherhood skills. Mothers also create an image whereby youngermothers can look up to them as models. Generally there areexpectations as how mothers should behave to the society(Ting-Toomey,2005). Theseexpectations are not originally from mothers but from the society atlarge. For example, if a child misbehaves the mother is blamed onbehalf instead of the child. The study demonstrated that mothersusually put a face depending on the person or the individuals theyare addressing. They put their best faces in front of other familymembers, spouses, friends and other mothers.


Thereis lack of logical consistency in this theory as the cultural factorof face does not give enough explanations on the observed behaviors.An example in the application is whereby Japan people seem to havemore concern in their self face as earlier indicated. The UnitedStates applies more compromise than indicated in the theory (Oetzel,Meares, Myers, &amp Lara, 2002). Moreoften than not when provided with such controversies about a theorythere is need to do more research to uncover other hidden variables.The theory is also too general.


Facenegotiation theory deals with intercultural communication onindividual, inter-cultural and inter-relational levels. Bothcollectivist and individualist cultures have their different methodsof resolving conflict and maintaining a face. What may be naturalways of communication to one society may not appear as natural tomembers of another culture. Therefore, face negotiation theory is anecessary tool which is effective in developing communicationcompetence between different cultures.


Abigail,R. A. &amp Cahn, D. D. (2011). Conflictthrough Communication. (4th ed.).Boston MA: Pearson.

Cupach,W. &amp Metts, S. (1994). Facework.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ting-Toomey,S. (2005) The Matrix of Face: An Updated Face-Negotiation Theory. InW.B. Gudykunst (Ed.), TheorizingAbout Intercultural Communication(pp.&nbsp71–92).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Oetzel,J.,Meares, M., Myers, K., &amp Lara, E., (2002). Interpersonal Conflictin Organizations: Explaining Conflict Styles via Face-NegotiationTheory. CommunicationResearch ReportsVol 20 No 2 Pg 106-115

Oetzel,John, Stella Ting-Toomey, Martha I., Richard H., Richard W., &ampSiegfried S., (2003) &quotFace and Facework in Conflicts WithParents and Siblings: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Germans,Japanese, Mexicans, and U.S. Americans .&quot Journalof Family Communication.Vol 3 No2 Pg 67-93.

Tina-Toomey,S., &amp John O., (2003) &quotFace Concerns in InterpersonalConflict: A Cross-Cultural Empirical Test of the Face NegotiationTheory.&quot CommunicationResearch.Vol 30 No 6 Pg 599-624.