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Relationships base the life of every individual as humans are social beings. But conflicts are inevitable being in a relationship. The face negotiation theory explains how cultural difference in people influence in managing conflicts.

face negotiation theory

The theory was formulated by Stella Ting-Toomey, professor of human communication at California State University. Toomey described that difference in handling the conflicts can be a part of maintaining a ‘face’ in the society.

Face-Negotiation Theory

The cultural differences in the society shape the responses to conflicts in different societies. The theory holds up the idea of maintaining a face according to their cultures.

The face is nothing but an identity, the persona we keep up in the society-a public image. As face represents oneself in the society, the people display an attitude which is desirable to them.

There are certain factors in negotiating face. They are

  • Concern over self-face and others faces. It is important to understand the significance of face for an individual and how important is it to maintain a face which in turn will reflect on to the others.
  • People from a collectivistic culture usually avoid or integrates the conflict while more individualistic people dominates the conflict as to maintain an independent face in the society.
  • Another factor in negotiating face is status in the society which generates power.
  • In Collectivistic society people are born into certain status quo and their individuality is less concerned.
  • In a more individualistic society, people earn their power to live in the society.

An Important factor influencing a person’s behaviour is the culture he belongs to. From his childhood, the person lives in this perspective created by the culture.

The conflict styles differ with the culture and through socialising; the individual tends to reflect the particular culture while negotiating a conflict.

Generally there are two aspects in which the conflict styles are classified.

People belonging to individualistic culture tries to maintain a face so as to preserve one’s own face while in a collectivistic society, people maintains a face for the sake of the society.

Based on these dimensions, there are five types of conflict styles.

  1. Domination– An individualistic approach to make decisions by dominating or controlling.
  2. Avoiding– A collectivistic approach of staying away from the conflict.
  3. Obliging– A collectivistic approach of giving up.
  4. Compromising– An individualistic approach to negotiate to come to a solution.
  5. Integrating– An individualistic approach to work together to reach a solution.

Critics of Face Negotiation Theory

The western countries have an individualistic culture (promote individual autonomous, responsibility and achievement) which is greatly observed and followed. Whereas in Eastern countries have a collective or group culture and they honor community.

But there are societies in these countries which follows another culture like individualistic culture or collective culture vice-versa. So the generalisation applied to the cultural classification is not practical in this context.

Related: Cultural Identity Theory


Face negotiation can be applied in the study of all types of interpersonal relationships and how it is applicable across cultures.


According to the Stella Ting-Toomey “People face a conflict situation will differ from individualist culture and collectivist culture.

When an ordinary person in USA, followed the response to a conflict will be self-preserving and dominating. At the same time for a person who has migrated from a collective culture like china, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the response reflects his/her culture (collective culture) to avoid the conflict or oblige to the situation.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Kaycee Jane A. Verdadero August 22, 2016, 12:27 pm

    Good day!

    I am a college student taking up Bachelor of Science in Technology Communication Management at MUST, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines. One of our major subjects is Theories of Communication. We are asked by our instructor to report and discuss in the class about different communication theories. I will discuss about Face-Negotiation Theory. Part of the requirements is having an Author Intimacy with our theorist. In line with this, I would like to ask the email address of Ms. Stella Ting-Toomey. If ever be given, please contact me on this email address kayceejaneverdadero@gmail.com

    I hope this merits a positive response. Thank you so much!

  • Ivan July 15, 2018, 6:10 pm

    Can you please explain the 7 assumptions and face orientations?

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