FACE LOSS: What it is and how a mediator can deal with it. Pt 2


In the last issue I spoke about the physiological reactions experienced by a person who loses “face” and the defences which he erects when such face-loss occurs. In this issue I will outline a few techniques which a mediator can employ to break down these defences.  


Having experienced face-loss, which is essentially a loss of self-esteem, a party will try to re-establish his “face” by either creating a new conflict, adopting a ridgid position or escalating a conflict. A mediator can assist in the re-establishment of a party’s lost face by employing face-giving strategies. These face-giving strategies fall into two categories–preventive and corrective.


Preventive measures are applied before face loss occurs in order to negate or minimize its occurrence. For instance, at the start of the mediation the mediator can encourage the setting of a ground rule that parties will speak civilly to each other in order to prevent the loss of face and consequent escalation in the conflict that will occur if one party starts shouting at or speaking abusively to the other party. A mediator can also separately coach the parties to make their points using language that will build up the esteem of the other side.  (eg. “This offer is not meant to insult you and I hope you will allow me to explain why I am making it.”).


Corrective measures are applied after one party has caused the other party to lose face. If therefore one party makes an offensive statement to the other party, an apology is a powerful corrective measure which a mediator can encourage parties to use.  Another corrective measure is reframing by the mediator of statements made by one party which may cause face-loss to the other party.


Once face-loss becomes an issue in a mediation, the focus of the mediation will immediately shift from the substantive issues in the conflict to the face-loss issue and will not return to the substantive issues until the face-loss issue has been resolved. A mediator would therefore do well to come to a mediation armed with a number of face-giving strategies to assist the parties to get past this potentially ruinous psychological barrier to settlement.


  1. Keri Kitson Says: October 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    With regards to the Preventative measure, exactly when do you propose that this private caucus occur? Wouldn’t the mediator be overstepping the neutral party boundaries a bit and getting into a murky grey area?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *