In Today’s class we discussed several topics which included: Barriers to communication, non-verbal communication, the concept of “Face” and Universalism and Particularism.
- Due to LaRay M. Barna there are several barriers to communication which can cause many problems. He listed six in his book “Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication” from 1984:
- Assumption of similarities
- Language differences
- Nonverbal misinterpretations
- Preconceptions and stereotypes
- Tendency to evaluate (Ethnocentrism)
- High anxiety
All these barriers can lead to severe misunderstandings when it comes to communication between different cultures. For example the barrier of assuming similarity. To understand this point better the teacher showed us a case of a Danish-American couple who lived in New York and wanted to have a coffee in a shop in New York on a winter day. While they drank their coffee inside, the couple let the baby stroller with their baby stand outside of the shop. Even though the shop’s staff offered the couple several time to enter the baby carriage, they refused by insisting that it is ok. But while the couple drank their coffee, someone called the police and the parents got arrested and the baby has been place for foster care until her parents were released the next day. The mother stated that they didn’t bring the child into the shop, because she believed that the common Danish practice of leaving children unattended outside of shops or restaurant was equally accepted in New York.
- Furthermore we talked about non-verbal communication which is defined as followed:
“Those aspects of communication, such as gestures and facial expressions, that do not involve verbal communication but which may include nonverbal aspects of speech itself (accent, tone of voice, speed of speaking, etc).”
(Collins English Dictionary: 2012)
There are some aspects of non-verbal communication which are universal like e.g. the smile of a baby. Also the expressions for surprise, happiness, disgust, sadness, fear and anger are really similar all over the world. But there are many things in non-verbal communication which differ a lot in different cultures and so this can lead to misunderstandings. An example for this is the smile. In the United States a smiling Person can express greetings or humour or wants to address someone, while in Japan a smile can also stand for disguising negative emotions.
- After that the teacher presented the concept of “Face” to us. This concept refers to a person’s own sense of dignity, honour or prestige in social contexts. So if someone want to “save his face”, he wants to preserve his established position in society by taking action to ensure that his peers don’t think badly of him. Especially in East-Asian countries it is really important not to lose your own face and people want to prevent also that others lose their face.
- The last point we discussed about was Universalism vs. Particularism. People who are Universalists set their focus more on rules and therefore treat the people after their rules. They have the motto: “What is good and right can be defined and always applied.” While Particularists set their focus more on relationships than rules. To illustrate these two concepts we took a closer look on a story of a guy who caused a car accident because he drove to fast and then hit a person. The teacher asked us what we would do if we witnessed the accident but the car’s driver is our close friend? Would we tell the police the truth that he exceeded the speed limit? Or would we protect him by lying? Would the situation change if the victim was injured badly or had only some scratches? It was really difficult to answer these question and we also didn’t come to an agreement in the end.
Because we talked about the concept of face and the meaning of it, I asked myself:
What does it mean to lose your face and what consequences does could this have especially in East-Asian cultures?
Before I want to show what it means to lose your face in Confucian Asian countries, one needs to know what the concept of face actually is there. In the East Asian countries the “Face” represents a person’s esteem and his emotions towards prestige within the family, the workplace, circle of friends and the society in general. The concept of face is also divided in several components: The individual view, the community view and the actions. So you can win and lose your face in many different spheres.
So what does it actually mean to lose face?
There are many definitions which describes what happens when you “lose face”. They reach from “to become less respectable” or “to do something which makes other people stop respecting you” to “to not maintain your reputation and the respect of others”.
(The free dictionary)
So there doesn’t exist just one definition of it. Therefore it does also mean something different if you lose your face in different countries. In the Western countries there doesn’t even existed a concept of “Face” before they encountered the Chinese and Japanese cultures in the 19th century. Therefore this concept must be more deep seated in the East-Asian cultures. That’s the reason why I want to take a closer look what consequences it may have be if for example a Japanese person loses his face. The concept of “saving face” guides the daily life in Asia. To not lose one’s face, one have to stay cool in public, what means that arguing or shouting in public are seen as inacceptable. This action can not only cause one’s own loss of face but also the loss of other person’s face, who are seeing the argument, through embarrassment. In general one can cause the face-loss of yourself or other persons if you bring yourself or others in uncomfortable, embarrassing situations in which nobody knows how to act now. Especially in the business world the concept of face plays an important role. In East-Asian companies hierarchy is much more important than in Western countries. Leaders and managers are often untouchable and can’t be criticized by person with a lower position. They are often respected only because of their position. The age is also an important part, because the elderly are really appreciated for their wisdom and experience. There exist special terms for every rank to address all persons properly.
So what can happen when an East-Asian person loses his face?
The consequences can differ extremely from person to person. For Japanese people the loss of face is one of the most terrible things which can happens to a person. It often ends in embarrassment and in some case in depression of persons, because they don’t know how to handle and escape the situation. It can also cause destruction of private or business relationships. In Japan it isn’t rare that people commit suicide after a really grave loss of face. In the Samurai era it was even seen as something honourable to take your own life to prevent that shame will fall over your family, after you lost your face.
The China Culture Corner: Gaining and Losing Face in China. Found at: http://chinaculturecorner.com/2013/10/10/face-in-chinese-business/ (Last access: 10.11.2014)
The free dictionary: Definition lose face. Found at: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/lose+face ( Last access: 10.11.2014)