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Saving Face

How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust

By Maya Hu-Chan
16-minute read
Audio available
Saving Face by Maya Hu-Chan

Saving Face (2020) adapts the multifaceted concept of “face” to the modern world. This practical guide shows how to build and maintain healthy and productive business and social relations across time and space. 

  • Managers interested in fostering a humane, communicative, and inspiring workplace
  • Remote workers attempting to sustain healthy business relationships
  • Anyone curious about cross-cultural psychology

Maya Hu-Chan is a management consultant, executive coach, and sought-after public speaker. She is the founder and president of Global Leadership Associates and co-authored the forward-thinking leadership guide Global Leadership: The Next Generation.

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Saving Face

How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust

By Maya Hu-Chan
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Saving Face by Maya Hu-Chan
Synopsis

Saving Face (2020) adapts the multifaceted concept of “face” to the modern world. This practical guide shows how to build and maintain healthy and productive business and social relations across time and space. 

Key idea 1 of 10

“Face” is a complex social currency that governs our relationships.

Here’s a disaster scenario: You’re in charge of your company’s cash flow process. Under your watch, someone has embezzled huge amounts of money. Worse still, you didn’t catch the theft until it was too late. Will your colleagues take you seriously ever again?

Well, that depends. If your boss disciplines and demeans you in a company-wide email, probably not. But if she talks to you in private and then publicly announces that she trusts you to redesign a more secure system, you might leave the situation unscathed.

The difference? In the second scenario, your boss has helped you save face.

The key message here is: “Face” is a complex social currency that governs our relationships.

The concept of “face,” as in the phrase “saving face,” can be hard to define. That’s because in this context, “face” doesn’t mean your physical visage. This version of face is a rough translation of the Chinese word miàn zi. It doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. However, it’s close to concepts like respect, dignity, and credibility. 

So, your “face” corresponds to the level of esteem you have of yourself and to the status and respect you are given in your community. Someone with lots of face, like an honored elder, will carry themselves with confidence and pride and often be treated with appreciation and deference by others. Someone with little face, like a disgraced politician, can expect the opposite; they will be mocked and ridiculed.

It’s important to remember that face isn’t a constant quality. In practice, it’s actually more like money. It can be accrued and lost over time in accordance with your actions. A healthy relationship built on empathy and respect will increase face for both participants. However, being deceitful or disrespectful will make you lose face in the eyes of others.

While this may all sound very abstract, it’s actually a useful way of understanding the social world. Consider your own life. Those you know who are successful in business or popular in your community most likely cultivate face for themselves and others. And you’ve probably considered the status of your own face at work and at home – even if you didn’t use that same terminology.

In the next blink, we’ll continue exploring how face works. And, crucially, we’ll look at how to avoid losing it. 

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