ETAS learning technologies

ETAS learning technologies blog

Concept of ‘losing face’ – simply an eastern concept?

Posted by ckwok2013 on 29 August 2013

From a recent discussion in LinkedIn forum of SIETAR Europa: Competence in intercultural professions

(Sietar stands for Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research) 

Cross-Cultural Leadership: How to Avoid Making People Lose Face (LeadershipWatch, Aad Boot)

Business leaders of multinational organizations are often confronted with cross-cultural differences. These differences can cause misunderstandings and awkward situations between people. Especially when people feel they are losing Face. Face – an Eastern concept most likened to the Western concept of respect and dignity. Making people feel they are losing Face occurs more easily than we might expect and can seriously damage relationships.

This cross-cultural aspect of ‘losing Face’ can for instance play a role when you are responsible for leading a complex change project involving people from other cultures.

Brian Cook meets with his Chinese change manager Chan Ling and his team at the Beijing office of a European corporation to discuss last month’s delay in the change deadlines. He questions Chan Ling repeatedly about his team’s underperformance. Brian openly states he believes the team is not pushing hard enough and that there is a lack of commitment. He stresses that Ling is accountable for the results of the team and that he should have informed him about the issues. Ling nods silently and peers out the window. He picks up his papers, walks through the door without further discussion, and never returns. (Example with fake names)

Chan Ling feels he has lost Face. He perceives the directness of Brian’s approach as rude and insulting to him personally. In his culture Face is more important than any other thing. It is almost considered a physical entity, which can be ‘given’, ‘saved’, ‘enjoyed’, ‘considered’, or – and this is every Chinese’s nightmare – ‘lost’. The incident has seriously disturbed the relationship between him and Brian.

Ren yao lian, shu yao pi.

A person needs Face, like a tree needs bark.

(Chinese proverb)

  1. What are your reactions?

  2. Can Brian repair the relationship with Chan Ling?

  3. How can they move forward from here and foster a relationship of respect and collaboration?

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