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Three Powerful Ways to Make Our Negotiations More “Face Friendly”

By Mike Macchiarelli

According to Social Psychologists, the concept of helping others saving face impacts just about every negotiation and bargaining encounter. Below are three effective ways to make our negotiations more “face friendly.”


Be Proactive About Face

Face is our perception of how we are viewed by others.

Since everyone wants to be seen in a positive light, one of the most powerful ways to make our negotiations more face friendly is by proactively striving to make our opponents also feel like a winner in the exchange.

The key in doing so is to distinguish between the tangible and intangible aspects of the negotiation. For example, in The Social Psychology of Bargaining and Negotiation, researchers Rubin and Brown write, “even when the division of tangible resources is the primary focus of activity, intangibles such as self-esteem, honor, or principle become intimately involved.”

Based on this social reality, we should always strive to provide some form of reward for the other party. The best place to start is simply by asking the following question: How can I help the other party feel like they were also a winner in the negotiation?

Selective Listening

In addition to being proactive about face before the negotiation, it’s important to practice selective listening throughout. Also referred to as “tactful blindness,” by Social Psychologists, this is when one or both parties “work to maintain the fiction that no threat to face has occurred.”

The reason this is effective is because we have a tendency to fall into the consistency trap. The consistency trap is when we say or do things out of defensiveness and negative emotion that we feel we have to rationalize, justify, stand behind, or defend later – even though it might not be in our best interest.

Our ability to perceive a potential consistency trap, “selectively listen,” and apply “tactful blindness” ignoring previously unhelpful statements can be an invaluable asset when attempting to help others save face and move the negotiation forward.


Know the three key variables 

According to researchers, there are three key variables in regard to face that we should always be aware of: power, distance, and imposition.

Distance describes the degree of social familiarity between parties, such as the difference between a close friend and a complete stranger. When distance is high, our requests are perceived as more face-threatening than if the distance were low. When negotiating, we should always attempt to reduce perceived distance by demonstrating our liking and approval of the other person in the hopes of building a closer relationship.

Power includes the range of power, both real or perceived, such as the difference between a middle manager and CEO. As might be expected, when power is in our favor, we tend to feel comfortable making requests. When power is not in our favor, we tend to feel the opposite. When negotiating, we should strive to increase power in our favor, while also demonstrating respect and deference to the other party if they have the advantage.

Lastly, imposition describes the degree of burden for complying with our requests, such as the difference between asking a customer to spend $10.00 versus $100,000. When making smaller impositions, our requests are less face-threatening, and when making larger impositions, they are more. To reduce the potential impact of a necessary imposition during negotiation, we should focus on increasing our power, decreasing distance, and framing our request in a way that clearly demonstrates the benefit to the other party so they can more easily accept it.