Stella Ting - Toomey (Toomey) established the “Face-Negotiation” theory to explain how culture affects the way conflict negotiation is performed. Particularly, the theory relates to conflict negotiation with regards to face work. In order to predict the type of conflict management to be used in a conflict negotiation situation, Toomey identifies the related four concepts linked in a chain. The first link identifies cultures as being either collectivistic or individualistic. Three distinctions are made to differentiate between the two cultures and they are how each member of the culture perceives self, goals and duty. Collectivistic cultures value collective needs and goals (a “we”-identity) while individualistic cultures value individual needs and goals (an “I”-identity).
The next link identifies the types of self construal. Toomey recognizes that people within a culture can differ from each other relative to the importance they place on individual self sufficiency or group solidarity. These differences are termed “independent self” and the “interdependent self” respectively. The independent self is more self-face orientated and is more prevalent in individualistic cultures while the interdependent self is more other face orientated and is more prevalent in collectivistic cultures.
The third link involves recognizing the kind of face works people of different cultures and self-construal use, depending on the situation. Toomey describes face as “the projected image of one’s self in a relational situation.” (Griffin; pp 444) The first is “self-face” which refers to the preservation of one’s own face in a conflict negotiation. The “other-face” refers to preserving the face of the other party in a conflict negotiation. “Mutual-face” occurs when there is equal concern for both parties’ image. “Face restoration” is a strategy that involves repairing the damage to one’s own self image after it has already been damaged. Lastly, “Face giving” occurs when one party deliberately tries to enhance the image of the other. Toomey explains that “self face” and “face restoration” are typical strategies used in individualistic cultures while “other face” and “face giving” are typically techniques used by collectivistic cultures.
The final link in the chain has got to do with specific conflict management styles that can be predicted based on cultural, self-construal and situational contexts. The eight styles are “avoiding” (withdrawal), “obliging” (giving in), “compromising” (negotiation), “integrating” (problem solving), “dominating” (competing), “emotional expression,” “passive aggression” and “third-party help.” Toomey predicted that while collectivistic cultures would prefer the styles of ‘avoiding,” “compromising,” “third-party help” and “integrating,” individualistic cultures would prefer “emotional expression,” “passive aggression” and “dominating.” Toomey’s and Oetzel’s conflict management model also predicts, that in a high “other face” concerned situation, collectivistic cultures tend to use the “obliging” style and the individualistic cultures the “passive aggression” style. In a high “self face” concerned situation, the collectivistic cultures tend to use the “integrating” approach and the individualistic cultures the “dominating” approach. Therefore, in order to understand the type of conflict management styles to be used in a negotiation situation, it is crucial to identify the type of culture, the self-construal and also the context of the situation, and understand the interconnectedness between them.
To what extent does your cultural background and identity affect the way you negotiate conflicts?
Traditional Indians value their face a lot and in any negotiation situations, if I want the other party to oblige, giving concern to the “other face” is extremely crucial. Toomey and Oetzel identified three ethnically aligned conflict management styles and hence, coming from an ethnic Hindu/Indian background, I have found myself having using the third-party help style to manage conflicts in family situations. For example, when I had to negotiate with my father to allow me to pursue further education instead of getting married, I had to convince my mother and also his best friend to try to negotiate with him. Doing so gave my father an opportunity to save his face since it seemed as though he only allowed me to study because my mother and his best friend said so and not because I demanded as such. However, in my university situation where I have to constantly negotiate with people from individualistic cultures, I find myself using other types of conflict management styles. When I have to negotiate work load among group members for a group project, I tend to use the compromising style while when it comes to negotiating with the professors for grades or extra credit, I find myself using more of the obliging style to negotiate. Hence, depending on the cultural and face saving concern of the situation, I would determine the appropriate style of conflict management to apply.