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Theory Information

The face negotiation theory, developed by Stella Ting-Toomey (1988, 2005), explains the culture-based, individual-based, and situational factors that shape communicators’ tendencies in approaching and managing conflicts. The meaning of “face” is generally conceptualized as how we want others to see us and treat us and how we actually treat others in association with their social self-conception expectations. In everyday interactions, individuals are constantly making conscious or unconscious choices concerning face-saving and face-honoring issues across interpersonal, workplace, classroom, and international contexts. While face is about a claimed sense of favorable interactional identity, facework is about verbal and nonverbal behaviors that protect/save self, other, or mutual face.


Staff need to be skilled at understanding how to negotiate situations with multiple approaches to facework. Professional development programs for staff, faculty, and students should be implemented to enhance the appreciation for the importance of maintaining face, particularly in light of multiple ways to resolve conflict.

In having a good grasp of the face-negotiation (FT) theoretical framework, international education training programs can benefit from the following FT theory application objectives:

  1. Train administrators, staff, and faculty to understand the potential value clashes of individualism-collectivism and small/large power distance value dimensions;
  2. Train on campus faculty members to be culturally sensitive to diverse facework and conflict communication styles (e.g., direct versus tactful) of international students in the classrooms;
  3. Train international students to engage in self-face assertion or mutual-face integrative facework negotiation process;
  4. Train U.S. students to appreciate other-face consideration process and practice other-oriented or mutual-oriented face-saving behaviors; and
  5. Train both international students and American students and other targeted clients to code-switch flexibly and perspective-take mindfully in relationship to particular cross-cultural situational features.
Reflections Stella Ting-Toomey
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