The rules around saving face are key to conducting both professional and personal business, according to the author of Face: How Saving Face Changes Everything.
Everyone from time to time has used the terms “saving face” and “losing face”. But what exactly is face? Some wrongly assume face is just an Asian custom like bowing to your superiors. Others mistakenly think face is as simple as remembering your manners. For some, it involves suffering an embarrassing moment. Face is actually much more -- face is an essential element of successfully getting along with others in both our personal and professional lives.
Face is outward-focused. Face requires empathy and being able to place yourself in the other person’s shoes. How are they feeling? What is their mood? How would you react to what you are saying if you were them? Gauge the temperature of the room and proceed accordingly. Remember the Golden Rule we all learned as children – Treat others as you wish to be treated. Putting another person’s dignity and comfort first will always preserve face.
The applications of face are abstract rather than black & white. There is no manual which teaches face. There is no hard list of rules which will apply to every situation. Face cannot be taught in finishing school. Face requires flexibility and reacting in the moment, which can be challenging for those not accustomed to fluid thinking. Experience is the best teacher of face.
Face involves listening to what is being said – and not said. This requires careful observation of the other person. They said “yes” to your proposal? Was the “yes” enthusiastic, a bit hesitant, or weak and non-committal? Are they truly receptive or just feigning interest? Read between the lines, watch body language, and react appropriately. Being aggressive while the other is obviously holding back will result in loss of face for all involved.
Face is universally relevant and at the same time regionally specific. The basic concepts of face can apply everywhere in the world – be considerate, be polite, be complimentary, be respectful, etc. “Please” and “thank you” are obvious. Where things start to vary is in different countries and specific regions. Where do you shake hands vs. bow vs. hug? When is a gift required? Who expects personal conversation before business is broached? The only guidance here is a little prior research and a lot of firsthand experience.
Preserving face is learned over time upon reflection of one’s successes and failures. No one will handle face perfectly their first time out. Minor gaffes due to inexperience may be overlooked and laughed about later, but what is important here is keeping the overall concepts of face in the forefront and learning from every encounter.
Face: How Saving Face Changes Everything (published August 2016 as an Amazon Kindle book) describes the importance of face and the “9 Rules” to remember in your professional and personal life.