Stella Ting-Toomey on Face-Negotiation Theory

I’m talking with Stella Ting-Toomey of California
State University at Fullerton, author of Face-Negotiation
Theory. Stella, what is Face?
Face is about communication respect issue.
It’s claimed sense of social self-worth
that I believe every human being wants and
needs. But it’s definitely about communication
identity, respect issue, and other consideration
Is it a private thing or a public thing?
I think it’s both. And depending on what
culture we are talking about, for the collectivistic
group-oriented type of culture like Japan
or China, there’s a distance between the
public self-presentation of face and the private
self; whereas in an individualistic culture
such as the larger U.S. culture or the larger
Australian culture, there might be a closer
correspondence between the public self and
the private self.
Can you flesh out the differences between
those two types of cultures.
Basically, an individualist culture emphasizes
the importance of an “I” identity more
so than a “we” identity. It would emphasize
taking on personal initiative; it would emphasize
on personal achievement; whereas collectivistic
cultures emphasize teamwork, group orientation,
group harmony issues, that we should always
be considerate of other people’s face. Group
harmony should always supersede our individual
self-interests or self-needs. Broadly speaking,
U.S. overall and Australia and many of the
northern European cultures have been identified
as more highly individualistic in comparison
to many of the Asian cultures – Japanese
cultures, Chinese cultures, Korean cultures
– and many of the Latin-American cultures
and also I think many African cultures. According
to Triandis, overall speaking in terms of
global level, almost seventy percent or so
of the cultures subscribe to some forms of
collectivistic values, in comparison to less
than maybe thirty percent. So, to me it’s
very critical for us to really have a good
grasp of the collectivistic values orientation.
We are making a video, and it’s going to
be shown to students. What if it really turns
out poorly and students are just bored out
of their gourd – I mean, it’s just not
good? We’ve got some face work to do.
(Ting-Toomey: Mm, hmm.)
What kind of face work as a child of a collectivistic
culture would you do, and what kind of face
work, if it holds true to form, do you think
I would do?
If we played out our own scripts, and we could
do that, from a collectivistic angle, I would
say, “Well, it seems like none of you are
really paying attention. It must be really
my fault. It’s because I didn’t really
set up the context for you with a clear focus
of what you should be watching for. So, therefore,
you are all falling asleep on me. So maybe
we’ll try again next week.” I would do
a little bit of self-effacing statement. Alternatively,
if you are playing your individualistic script,
I’ll say, “It is obvious you didn’t
read the book three times, and you’re falling
asleep. If you’d read the book three times
and watched this video, you’d know this
video is a brilliant video. So, I will ask
you again to read the book three times and
come prepared to meet those authors halfway.
Goodbye.” [laughter]
That comes hard to you. You’re laughing
when you say it…
Sometimes I’ve used that because, being
a teacher now from 1981 until this point,
I don’t think human beings are trapped in
the role of the culture. I think we’re capable
of changing, adapting.
You’ve talked a lot recently about self-construal.
This is not a household word.
What does self-construal mean?
Self-construal is really the idea of your
construction of sense of self, whether you’re
constructing it from a more independent angle
or interdependent angle. I think the term
has gained currency because a lot of interpersonal
and intercultural researchers are grappling
with ways of how to un-package the colossal
terms of individualism, collectivism to more
specific directions. So, there’s a difference
between cultural-level analyses and individual-level
analyses; and construal of self is the individual-level
analyses – personality attributes and tendencies.
Whereas independent self tends to emphasize
more on personal initiative, personal accountability
and achievement, in comparison interdependent
self tends to emphasize more on relational
harmony issues, co-operative issues, etc.
What I hear you saying is that it could possibly
be that, even though I was raised in an individualistic
society, I could have a self-construal that
was much more interdependent; and, so, maybe
I would be self-effacing because within my
culture, I’m way off to one side. Is that possible?
That’s a very accurate perception. While
we talk about cultural patterns as central
tendencies of a curve, you might be the outlier.
Three standard deviations away.
Yeah, exactly. Not to mention that insiders, especially
the “western” or “U.S” insiders, always
think that they’re not typical Americans.
[laughter] So, they all want to claim that
they’re a little bit different from the
rest of the majority of the group norms.
So, you’re right that definitely, I’d say, in the pluralistic or heterogeneous cultural system,
there are more noises, and there are more
diversity of personality-type attributes.
So, you can be born and raised in an individualistic
society, but your personality tendency and
maybe your family upbringing could be fairly
interdependent oriented.
You and your colleagues recently have found
that self-construal, this individual identity,
is a better predictor of conflict style than
culture. Does that bother you? Does that make
it seem like, “Oh, my theory was wrong?”
No, I’m very excited.
(Griffin: Why?)
Because culture is not a static entity; it’s
dynamic. I always believed that, on a broad
level as a theorist, we have to start somewhere
and say that, “all right, overall Australian
culture tends to be this way, or the Korean
culture tends to be this way, or Mexican cultures.”
But we all know those are such broad labels
that we can never capture the immense diversity
of human behaviors in the broad label of this
big colossal concept called “Mexican Culture”
or the “U.S. Culture.” So, I was very
pleased in terms of finding
there was an individual level, there’s tremendous variations.

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