Face negotiation theory explains how we manage conflict based on our culture or how we were brought up. The image or “face” we put on for the public correlates with our needs and wants. Individualistic societies like the United States tend to solve conflict through competition or more combative measures while collective societies found throughout Asia like China and Japan tend to solve conflict more passively and will avoid or oblige to opposition.

Both individualists and collectivists maintain a face to the public, but often for different reasons. An individualist will maintain a face in order to preserve one’s own desires while a collectivist will maintain a face to satisfy their group’s desires.

The theory was developed by Professor Stella Ting Toomey in 1985. The “face” is an identity of the two types of societies this theory targets. The identity is based on how each group wants to be seen to others. One tends to take a stance and dominate an issue to stand out as an individual whereas the other will avoid the issue in order not to shame or hurt the identity of their entire group.

Individualistic conflict management characteristics include:

  • Compromising – a way to agree on a solution in a negotiation

  • Dominating – maintaining control

  • Integrating – working together towards a common goal

Collectivist conflict management characteristics include:

  • Avoiding – staying out of the issue

  • Obliging – giving in to the other side

Understanding conflict management styles on both sides is crucial in terms of how to negotiate with people. This is why we stress the importance of face negotiation theory during negotiation training.

Face Negotiation Theory Examples

A situation arises in which a recording artist and record label must agree on a percentage of royalties that the artist will receive. The record label is adamant on giving the recording artist 12%.

The individualist recording artist might argue their worth is more and attempt to dominate the negotiation by threatening to sell their work to a different label. They want to create a high status and be seen as valuable to the public so higher level musicians will desire to work with them.

The collectivist recording artist might oblige to the 12% and make the whole negotiation process seamless. They want to be seen as easy to work with. The artist may have other people they work with that will benefit on a successful deal being made so they don’t want to step on any toes and risk the deal falling through.

Want to Learn More?

TableForce offers several negotiation training courses where you will gain skills, knowledge and experience on topics like this. We have online courses, self-paced videos, coaching, advising and more!