Face is a complicated subject in China and one that is extremely important for you to understand when doing business in China. There are three types of face in China: personal esteem, your reputation and your honor. In the west, we only think of face in terms of saving face. In China, you can lose face, give face, gain face and save face. How you manage face will impact your personal and business relationships. Being too direct in the wrong way could easily damage your working relationship beyond repair.
It’s relatively easy to lose face in China. You lose face when you lose your temper. You also lose face when you make a mistake or do something that makes you look foolish in front of others. Chinese culture is generally risk averse and you can lose face through poor judgement as well. It is useful to be even-tempered and cautious when working with Chinese people.
When working in China, you may see supervisors or managers lose their temper and yell. This is counter to Chinese business culture. If you are unhappy with an employee or colleague, express yourself without getting angry or shouting.
Giving face is simply making someone look good. You can do this through compliments. To be effective, the compliments must be realistic. You can’t over do the compliments or it will seem false and backfire. Your efforts will be more successful if you give these realistic compliments in front of someone else.
You can also give someone face by treating people with respect that is above their level in the hierarchy. Again, if you overdo this, it will seem suspicious and backfire.
You can gain face through your behavior and actions. If you do something remarkable, you gain face. If you manage your relationships in a way that creates harmony, you will gain face and prestige. Other tactics are similar to the west. Getting a promotion, dress nicely or even buying a nice car are also ways to gain face.
This is a familiar term in the west and it works in much the same way it does in China. You minimize the impact of something you did wrong and thus save face. In China, the things you do to save face can be more extreme. It’s considered okay to lie to save face. This is also an opportunity for you to build a relationship. If someone makes a mistake and you help them save face, you have a start on building a strong relationship.
It can be confusing to navigate these important business relationships. If you want to work in China or with Chinese people, you will be much better off if you take the time to understand how to manage face.