Face-Negotiation Theory Description

Verbal and nonverbal communication is an integral part of human interaction. However, miscommunication seldom leads to misunderstanding and conflict. Comprehending an implied meaning in a conversation can be challenging, especially in interpersonal communication between individuals with different historical backgrounds. Words, phrases, or actions can be interpreted differently by persons from distinct cultures. People tend to analyze their current situation using historical experiences. Ting- Toomey provided an understanding of a cross-cultural conflict during communication in his face-negotiation theory (FNT). His approach provided a sound framework for explaining the cultural disagreement in a face-to-face exchange. As a result, concerns in cross-cultural communication are dictated by individual, situational and cultural factors.

The underlying assumption in Ting-Toomey FNT is that face dictates the conflict styles. FNT claims that everyone attempts to save face from a cultural, individual, or situational perspective in all communication situations (Zhang et al., 2014). According to the theory, everyone from every ethnic background demands respect to feel a sense of importance. Notably, most of the differences in interpersonal communication are dictated by behavior and character. However, FNT clarifies that diverse individuals will use different strategies to save or honor one’s face in cross-cultural confrontation. A person from an individualistic culture will favor a self-oriented structure, while a collectivistic individual will prefer a solution beyond their wellbeing (Zhang et al., 2014). The common ways of attempting to save face can be through verbal or non-verbal communication. Knowledge and competence on cultural differences can eliminate conflict in intercultural communication.

Cross-cultural conflict is a primary concern in several spheres with two significant limitations. Ting‐Toomey et al. (1991) mentioned the first as the presence of little theoretical framework on the various cultures and the possible misunderstandings in different cultural groups. The other reason is little knowledge on the relationship between cultures and conflicts. The FNT offers insight into an intercultural conflict in the low-context and high-context communication framework. The theory explains the conflict styles as dominating, obliging, integrating, compromising, and avoiding. The idea mentions face-negotiation as the style of conflict management. Respecting intercultural differences is key to resolving conflicts in cross-cultural communication (Ting‐Toomey et al., 1991). For instance, the two friends in the transcript did not understand the difference in their historical backgrounds. Austria and Algeria have distinct political cultures that can result in conflict between individuals from these states. Communication conflict due to cultural differences can be solved through cultural competence.

Interactions are based on the values, rules, and norms of an individual’s culture. A statement such as “in Austria, a president can only serve two terms” from the attached transcript implies that the individual uses her country’s organizational values to interpret the Algerian political structure without understanding the other society. Both parties in the conversation exchange words with little or no understanding of the other’s historical background. Gudykunst et al. (1996) assert that past experiences dictate how individual filters, understand and interpret information. Styles in communication differ from one distinct culture to the next. Edward T. Hall 1976 explained variations in communication as low and high context (Gudykunst et al., 1996). Hall concentrates on the communication process to define the disparities. Miscommunication can occur between the two distinct forms of communication if the parties do not recognize and respect others’ opinions.

According to Hall, the two variations in a dialogue differ in individuals from separate cultures. Individuals will use direct and explicit messages, where the meaning of the words has no implied meaning, in low-context communication. In contrast, high–context communication uses indirect messages where the words have hidden meanings. Two people from the same culture will understand the intended meaning in high-context communication, but an individual from a different background can misunderstand the message (Gudykunst et al., 1996). Hall clarifies his theory by stating that people often use low and high-context communication when passing information or in dialogue. Still, one is more dominant depending on the culture (Gudykunst et al., 1996). For instance, high-context communication is predominantly used by individuals from collectivistic cultures, while low-context communication is predominant in individualistic cultured people. One group of people focuses on self while the other focuses on the group’s wellbeing.

There is often a misunderstanding between Individuals from individualistic and collectivistic cultures. In a conversation with the Austrian friend, she is against Algeria’s president running for the fourth consecutive term. Her argument is based on her values on the matter. She uses “I” severally in her dialogue to signal individualistic low-context communication. The phrase “made but it had to be done for the sake of the Algerian society” displays a high-context communication because her position in supporting the president’s bid is advised by the accumulative benefits the candidate will bring to the Algerian society. The Austrian friend does not understand the Algerian people who keep electing the same president. In contrast, the half Algerian native does not know why she is selfish for denying a “good” president an opportunity to rule. The two frameworks end up in a conflicting argument. Both display high context and low context communication, but one is dominant in each.

Communication with individuals from distinct geographical boundaries can be challenging. Political, social, and physical differences will cause conflicting information interpretations (Islam et al., 2018). In the transcript attached, every party in the conversation negotiates for their own country or political society. Phrases like “for Algeria” and “in Austria” have already become a source of conflict. Islam et al. (2018) acknowledge that processes and institutions’ variables are difficult to anticipate and complex to forecast. Therefore, the dispute in the attached conversation can be resolved by an individual who understands the Algerian and the Austrian political societies. Notably, the aspect of saving face in FNT will help understand the cause of conflict, and knowledge of individualistic and collectivistic approaches will help solve the disagreements in the transcript. Competence in conflict management can be employed by using many words and actions.

The actions of the other party often influence conflict due to the dialogic nature of communication. In the attached transcript, the communication breakdown begins when the Austrian friend mentions how shocking the Algerian president is running for a 4th term. She begins the conversation with an individual opinion that demeans the Algerian political process. The Algerian attempts to save face by correcting her stating that just because she lived in Algeria for a few months does not mean she understands anything about the country. Although not enough, Politeness is necessary to have a successful interaction (Shpeer, 2020). Notably, FNT comprehends that face needs are universal and can either be positive face or negative face. The latter will receive positive feedback, while the former is individualistic and can cause conflicts. The choice of the face depends on an individual and his knowledge of conflict management.

An individual will adopt a defensive communicative mechanism in antagonistic communication. In the transcript, the Austrian was using face-threatening acts which endangered the Algerian’s face. The half-native enacted facework strategies by narrating the unfortunate events of the civil war. She defended the Algerian political process and the reasons why most of the nation supports the president’s re-election. Orders, suggestions, reminders, threats, requests, and warnings are some of the behaviors that threaten negative faces, while disapproval, disagreements, criticism, inappropriate topics, and non-corporation endanger a positive face. Notably, facework is preserving self-identity by using a communicative mechanism that supports and constructs face (Shpeer et al., 2020). An individual will use verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to save face. However, the defensive approach can escalate or reduce the level of conflict.

The verbal and non-verbal behaviors can resolve conflict or escalate depending on the aggrieved’s intercultural competence and intent. An individual can employ five politeness strategies in a face negotiation. These are conventionalized indirectness, negative Politeness, no-redress baldly moves/being redressive, positive Politeness, and unambiguous on-record acts/off-record ambiguity (Mohanty et al., 2018). An individual with no knowledge of politeness strategies can escalate the conflict in intercultural communication. For instance, communication in the conversation transcript escalated because both individuals did not use any politeness strategy. Emotional intelligence and cultural competence play an essential role in resolving intercultural conflicts.

Face concern is a multidimensional focus in a conflict situation. The concept can emphasize self-face, which focuses on self. One is inclined to protect his or her image in self-face. The mutual face focuses on preserving the relationship by safeguarding both parties’ image, while another face is geared towards protecting the other person’s image (Croucher et al., 2020). The party’s in the conversation transcript focused on self-face as both were interpreting the Algerian election based on their own experiences. Nobody was trying to understand the other’s point of view. Notably, FNT developed around self-face and other-face and did not delve into mutual-face because of the complex variables (Croucher et al., 2020). Self-face can be blamed for most cross-cultural conflicts while others-face offers reconciliation and respect for the other culture. Concern for other-face will provide understanding in dialogue and deescalate potential conflict in cross-cultural communication.

Cultural values have a significant influence on the direction of a conversation. For instance, the dialogue in the conversation transcript was an argument about the two cultures’ values. Individualism-collectivism profoundly affects facework, face concerns, and face threats (Arpaciet et al., 2018). Austrian’s individualistic nature makes her not understand how the Algerian president would want to stick to power instead of protecting his image by letting others run. It goes against the individualistic nature, while the other party finds him suitable for the country. In her response, he runs for the fourth time to save Algeria from a repeat of the civil war or political injustices. Collectivistic individuals focus on other-face or mutual–face because harmony is paramount to them.

Every conflict style has a response concern model, which can limit or escalate the conflict. Blake and Mouton’s (1964) two-dimensional grid of concern has a dual concern model proposed by Pruitt and Rubin in 1986. The latter model is designed for people and productions while the former focuses on own outcome and other’s well-being in a conflict situation. The five conflict styles mentioned earlier are profound in both models. Notably, the competing concern has an assertive style that prioritizes self-concern but dismisses other concerns. The collaborative concern is corporative and focuses on other concerns and self. The collaborative style is both assertive and corporative because it prefers a “win-win” situation for both parties. Other styles are compromising, accommodating, and avoiding. Compromising focuses on moderate concern for others and self, accommodating concern dwells on other concerns, and avoiding concern is a “loose loose” situation (McKibben, 2017). Cultural individual and situational factors dictate the conflict styles. The three are interconnected in a delicate process that determines the level of conflict.

The outcome of intercultural communication is dictated by three factors which are individual, situational, and cultural. Although the aspects affecting cross-cultural communication are still a subject of study, Ting-Toomey’s face-negotiation theory provided the most reliable face negotiations approach. He described two limitations to conflict-free intercultural communication but offers styles that can limit misunderstanding. Interactions are based on an individual’s values, norms, and rules which can be distinct from the others in a conversation. Hall described the variations of communication between individuals from separate cultures. The difference is determined by the implied or direct meaning of a message. People from an individualistic culture often communicate differently from individuals from collectivistic cultures. Verbal and non-verbal behaviors can also escalate the conflict in these distinct cultures. Notably, individuals will adopt a defensive position to save face in antagonistic communication. Cultural values have a significant influence on the outcome of communication; therefore, cultural competence can eliminate most conflicts in cross-cultural communication.


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Appendix A

This is a conversation between my Austrian friend and me about the election that was happening in Algeria in 2016. She is Austrian and I am half Algerian. We talked about the election in Algeria because she worked in Algeria for 6 months. The conversation started as a result of her criticizing the president of Algeria after he announced that he would run for the 4th term. Her argument was that he was holding to power and “people” did not want him to be the president anymore. My argument as I know more than her was that the majority of the Algerian people were grateful for what the president did in the 90s after Algeria suffered 10 years of civil war against domestic terrorists. He ended it when he took power. He make a lot of progress since then on many levels. This conversation clearly showed the difference between my family´s culture and my friend’s culture. Austrians are individualistic and Algerians are collectivistic.

  • Her: So how are things back in Algeria?
  • Me: Things are going well! I was just there this past summer. It is always nice to visit my other half of the family.
  • Her: That is great to hear! How are our friends from the university in Algeria? I haven’t heard from them since I left Algeria three months ago.
  • Me: They are doing well! I actually met them when I was visiting and we hang out a lot.
  • Her: I was actually in contact with (mutual friend) and we talked about the university and obviously about the presidential election that is going on currently…
  • Me: Oh yeah? Well, that is true there is a presidential election happening. But the candidates are still campaigning though.
  • Her: I am still surprised that president Bouteflika is running for the 4th term! That is shocking to me!
  • Me: Why would it be shocking to you? Is it him personally as a president or the fact that he is running for the 4th term?
  • Her: Well it is both actually…what I am trying to say is that he should not run for the 4th term. It is bad news and it looks bad.
  • Me: Sorry…we have to unpack what you said. First, when you say as a president, do you mean that he is a bad president?
  • Her: Yes.
  • Me: And how did you come up with that conclusion?
  • Her: Well I lived there for 6 months and …
  • Me: but sorry I have to stop you right there. Do you think just because you lived in Algeria, you know the country well and its history and what that man has done to the country? I am sorry but that argument is both unfair and irrelevant. I know for a fact that whatever you think you know about this president is from whatever you hear from your friends in Algeria.
  • Her: Ok that might be true. I do hear them complaining about him and opposing him but it doesn’t mean that they are irrelevant or their voices don’t count.
  • Me: Absolutely their voices count, but they are not the majority. It is normal for anybody running for election to have opposition.
  • Her: But him deciding to run for the 4th term does not concern you? doesn’t it show that he is trying to stay in power?
  • Me: No, it does not concern me because it is beyond just another regular election. There is history and people are voting on that history.
  • Her: what do you mean?
  • Me: From 1989 to 1999 Algeria witnessed the worst civil war against terrorists. The whole country was in chaos, and unstable, and the terrorist groups were killing people every day and the family of law enforcement was targeted including mine. Like many others, my family had to use fake last names so that they can avoid being targeted. During those years no leader or politician was able to resolve that civil war. Then this president came in and long story short he was able to stop the civil war and reached a settlement with the extremist group. A lot of people still don’t like the deal that was made but it had to be done for the sake of the Algerian society. Since then, he made a lot of changes and contributions to the country, and the people saw the results and voted for him again.
  • Her: I am not against him ending the civil war, but after his second he should have stepped aside and let someone else be the president because there are some people opposing him.
  • Me: I really believe that he would have left if there was someone better. The people wanted him to stay longer because they could not trust other candidates and did not see that they could do what he is doing.
  • Her: Well I find it a little hard to believe that there are no better candidates…
  • Me: Have you studied or researched other candidates?
  • Her: No but It is still weird to me because in Austria A president can only serve two terms.
  • Me: In Algeria as well. No other president served more than 2 terms but again they did not do what this president is doing and the people like him and want him to stay longer, me included. I have voted for him 3 times.
  • Her: Ok but still her that journalists and people can not talk about certain stuff and that are being jailed for speaking their mind.
  • Me: With all due respect, that is nonsense and pure propaganda. I hear people criticizing him on TV and making parodies about him as you know I made a parody about him with my band on YouTube, do you see me in jail? It is true that there are some stuff people choose not to talk about because it would risk the stability of the country. If you ask Algerians, the majority would collectively agree that they do not care about the games of politics they simply do not want to go back to the dark decade of terrorism, and if this president is preventing it so be it let him be a president more than two terms.
  • Her: Well in Austria it is different and I am just glad that we have democracy and I have freedom of speech and I can say whatever I want about the president.

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