The term “saving face” is an important tenet of Asian culture. It refers to eliminating the possibility of embarrassment or discomfort, with an emphasis on maintaining the dignity of all parties involved. This concept is an outgrowth of collectivism, in which individual needs are subordinated to those of the group, and people are careful not to behave in a manner which is offensive.
In this culture the individualistic, more self-centered U.S. style of interaction is a byproduct of our ancestors. These pioneers emigrated to this country, sight unseen, on a treacherous journey at the end of which harsh, unfamiliar, and untamed conditions awaited them. Anthropologists theorize that these newcomers possessed certain traits that their relatives who stayed in the mother country did not: these included a greater degree of adventurousness, risk-taking, wanderlust, and openness to experience.
The union of people with like traits thus produced a “super-strain” of individuals who were highly independent and self-sufficient. These same characteristics that were so useful at one time for survival purposes (and which still fuel our entrepreneurial society) – may however have detrimental consequences for our personal behavior. Although in theory we appear to espouse the values of mutual respect and democratic management, how often are these values forgotten when we are faced with an annoying situation?
Our desire then to embellish our ego, to trounce an opponent, or to vindicate ourselves at another’s expense may take precedent over conducting ourselves with a sense of decorum. In these moments of self-righteousness indignation we seem to forget the Golden Rule, or as Tony Alessandra so eloquently coined the term, the Platinum Rule® – treating others as they wish to be treated.
We would be wise to remember that other people do not serve as receptacles for our psychic refuse, nor as convenient whipping posts for our daily frustrations. When there is an interpersonal issue, consider the following:
1. Refrain from using insulting, derogatory, or demeaning language. Although verbal bullets may leave you temporarily vindicated, I would imagine that most of us feel small and embarrassed when we consider our behavior from a different perspective. You are dealing with people who have fragile egos, past abuses, and challenging personal situations. Consider their feelings.
2. Let the other person speak, and then listen to their story. Perhaps you do not have all the facts, and heaven forbid, perhaps you are the one at fault! Apologize – not only to certain people whom you think are powerful, well connected, and could cause you trouble, but to everyone whom you have offended. It’s a sign of character to recognize when you’ve bruised the soul of another, and it’s an act of contrition to make amends.
3. Don’t grandstand over minor issues, particularly when large disparities or persistent inequities exist.
4. Cut the other person some slack. We live in a world in which everyone has multiple responsibilities they’re juggling to satisfy both work and family. It is occasionally possible that a procedural element slipped someone’s mind. This point is particularly salient if you fail to speak to your coworkers, and if you are unaware of their personal situations. Remember that no one lives, eats, and breathes the organization twenty four hours a day. Don’t be so dogged in proving yourself right.
5. Give the person the benefit of the doubt. Assume they have simply forgotten something, rather than committing a willful act of disobedience. Pick up the telephone and talk – this will in many cases clear up misunderstandings sooner, at the same time preventing them from escalating into full-blown incidents. Find out what is the other person’s preferred mode of communication.
6. Approach encounters as a fact finding mission, as opposed to an accusatory monologue. Recuse yourself from the position of jury, judge, and executioner. Approach situations as collaborative, win-win encounters as opposed to opportunities to showcase your positional strength.
7. Create an atmosphere of equals. Furniture placement (for example) may seem insignificant, but how your body is juxtaposed toward another creates a certain tone. You want to be seen as creating rapport with a partner, rather than chastising a school child. How other people feel they’ve been treated when they leave your office is what’s going to leave a lasting impression.
8. Ask for suggestions. If there is a conflict, invite people to express opinions on how they would perform operations differently. Some fruitful discussion and plans for improvement you had not considered may ensue.