Face Negotiation Theory – 7 Things Every Professional Should Know

What is the face negotiation theory? Does it have anything to do with how your face looks when negotiating? Or is it a theory where the shape or form of your face has anything to do with the success rate of negotiations? 

Whether you take it as a joke or not, the face negotiation theory does exist and for this article, we are going to study it.

After reading this article, you should understand what face negotiation theory is and be able to use it along with your other negotiation skills.

What is the Face Negotiation Theory?

According to Wikipedia, the Face Negotiation Theory is a theory that was conceived by Stella Ting-Toomey in 1985 to understand how people from other cultures are able to manage rapport and disagreements. The reason for the word “face” is because the face is always the first part of the body that other people look at, especially with strangers. Self-image when communicating with others is a very important aspect for every human being when speaking towards others, no matter what their background or culture is. 

So in terms of science-speak, face negotiation theory means studying the cultural-general framework of facework negotiation. In plain simple terms, it’s how people negotiate according to where they come from.

One good example is the individualist culture in the west. In countries such as the United States, Germany, and Great Britain, there is great value on freedom, personal rights, and the “do-it-yourself” attitude among negotiators. In countries such as Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, and other smaller nations, there is more value in the power of “we” instead of “I”. This is why you’ll see a group of negotiators coming together when dealing with companies that work in Asia and Latin America.

Face Movements in the Face Negotiation Theory

Yes, we know. The topic is a little overwhelming. 

The face negotiation theory is explained more in detail in our Negotiation Gamechanger course, so if you’re having a hard time catching up, then you can understand this concept more by enrolling in our course.

Now, face movement refers to options that a negotiator has to face when choosing whether to defend, maintain, and/or upgrade self-face against other-face during a conflict in negotiations. There are four opportunities that a mediator can use in regards to their concern for self-face or their personal image against the other-face or their counterpart’s image of themselves:

  • If there is a low level of concern for both self-face and other-face, the result is mutual-face obliteration
  • If there is a high level of concern for both self-face and other-face, the result is mutual-face protection
  • If there is a high level of concern for the other-face, but a low level of concern for the self-face, the result is other-face defense.
  • If there is a high level of concern for the self-face, but a low level of concern for the other-face, then the result is self-face defense.

While these opportunities are set in stone, there will be times when you’ll need to modify, especially if you’re going to work with people with different cultural standards. In a collectivistic culture where the mutual-face concern is very important, avoidance of conflict usually prevails in order for the situation to be defused. Of course, the opposite can be said about an office that works in an individualistic culture.

Editor's note:

The Negotiation Game Changer Certificate Program teaches you:

  • the skills needed to drive better, fact-based decisions that ultimately benefit both organizations and its employees.
  • a comprehensive analytics skill set that will enable you to achieve deals with results you have been dreaming of.

The Different Conflict Communication Styles

During face negotiations, conflict communication becomes very important. Conflict style consists of learned behaviors that are developed through socialization with one’s culture. The purpose for the development of conflict communication style is to help the negotiator in saving their face and that of the face of the other. 

So in this section, you are going to determine what is your own style of conflict communication. It’s important to do so since in negotiations, there will come a time where you’ll need to use conflict communication to resolve issues. Also, if you determine what is your own conflict communication style, you can grow this until you’re confident enough to use it in most negotiations.

There are different conflict communication styles that you can use:

  • Dominating – A conflict communication style that puts great emphasis on one person’s position or goal above the other.
  • Avoiding – This style puts an emphasis on eluding the conflict topic, the conflict party, or the conflict situation altogether.
  • Obliging – This conflict style places high concern for the other person’s conflict interest than your own conflict interest.
  • Integrating – This conflict style is the same as with making concessions. Meaning a solution closure that involves high concern for one’s self and high concern for the other party too. 
  • Emotional Expression – This is a conflict style that emphasizes articulating a person’s feelings in order to control and deal with conflict.
  • Third-Party Help – A conflict communication style that is about resolving conflicts by getting extra help to manage communication.
  • Passive Aggressive – A conflict style that is all about reacting to conflict in a roundabout way, placing the blame indirectly on others.


What is face negotiation theory?

Face negotiation theory is the theory of conducting negotiations through the study of one’s cultural background in negotiations and discussions

What is a face negotiation theory example?

A famous example of a face negotiation theory is the Chinese negotiation style of saving face.

How to deal with the face negotiation theory?

Dealing with face negotiation can be done by studying the traditions and culture of how certain countries do their negotiations.

Learn the ways of face negotiations with us!

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