FACE LOSS: What it is and how a mediator can deal with it. Pt 1


The concept of “face” originated in China in the 4th century, B.C. It comprised two aspects–good moral character and high social standing. A person’s “face” told the world his worth as a human being.


In Western cultures, “face” can be equated to self-esteem. A person loses “face”/self-esteem when his self-image—the vision of himself which he presents to the world—is tarnished. This may occur either because he is denied something which he needs to sustain that vision (eg. respect) or some aspect of the vision is called into question (eg. his honesty).


Face loss produces a psychological reaction in the person experiencing it–feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, anxiety or anger. If it is an event which causes the loss of face (eg. ifhe stumbles and falls in the supermarket) the reaction is directed inward at himself. However, if it is a person who causes him to lose face (eg. if someone pushes him and he falls in the supermarket), his reaction is directed outward at the person who pushed him. He becomes defensive in an attempt to save “face”—to re-establish his self-esteem in the eyes of the one who caused him to lose face and/or in the eyes of the general public. His defense may be to:


(a) create a conflict:- he accuses the person of deliberately pushing him before the person can say a word.


(b) adopt a rigid position sometimes leading to impasse in a conflict:- he insists that the other deliberately pushed him despite statements from witnesses that suggest it was an accident.


(c) escalate a conflict:- he punches the person in the face.


A party involved in a mediation with someone who caused him to lose face either during the incident which led to the mediation or even during the mediation itself, will be utilizing one or more of these defences. In the next issue, I will explain what face-giving/face-saving techniques a mediator can employ during the mediation process to neutralize these defences.

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