Leadership consultant Maya Hu-Chan takes a deep dive into the Chinese concept of “face.” Face represents a person’s belief in his or her self-worth, status, reputation and societal position. Honoring face, helping people save face or causing someone to lose face manifests in virtually every interpersonal interaction. In business, awareness of face helps leaders connect with a diverse workforce, bridge cultural differences and build strong, mutually beneficial relationships.
“Face” refers to the desire for others to honor your dignity and self-respect.
In Chinese culture, “face” signifies a person’s idea of self-worth, status, reputation and position within the family, a social circle, a company and a community. If face is a social currency, your interactions with other people either boost or deplete the supply of face in each relationship. Deposits include activities that build trust, convey appreciation or demonstrate empathy. You cause someone to lose face by harming his or her pride or self-image. Fortunately, a relationship can survive a blow to face if the social currency deposits outnumber the withdrawals.
Three expressions explain how face works:
- “Honoring face” – This includes relationship-building interactions that confer respect and regard, such as soliciting advice, expressing gratitude, listening respectfully and recognizing someone’s contributions.
- “Losing face” – This occurs when one party feels diminished, misjudged or disrespected, all of which elicit negative emotions such as shame or humiliation.
- “Saving face”
Maya Hu-Chan is a leadership coach, consultant, keynote speaker, founder of the Global Leadership Association and co-author of Global Leadership: The Next Generation.