Losing Face

Lesson 3: Topic 6 of 14

Losing Face is closely tied to the concept of harmony in eastern and southeast Asian cultures. Many westerners are familiar with the phrase, but have no idea how “face” actually functions. 

Face is the quality embedded in most Asian cultures that indicates a person’s reputation, influence, dignity, and honor. By complimenting a person, showing them respect or doing something to the effect of increasing their self-esteem, you give them face. Similarly, people can lose face, save face and build face. Therefore, in cultures that have an awareness of face, individuals usually act deliberately and with restraint to protect their self-worth and peer perception. Conservative conduct is the norm, as people don’t want to stand out and/or risk losing face by doing something inappropriate. For many, the fear of letting down the family or society dominates almost everything else.

Cultural Atlas

Where this cultural asset shows up most notably is in areas of correction. If a supervisor becomes angry at an employee, directly addresses an error, or laughs at them, this would cause the employee to lose face. Much more subtlety is required. Every person is expected to control their emotions, and promote the face of others around them. 

Private discussions of a negative issue or result, as opposed to the person who caused the issue, are preferred. For example, “A statement was made about the company” is better than “You said this about the company.” Understand that embarrassment to an American is not the same as losing face. Face is carefully cultivated over time, and isn’t easily rebuilt.

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