Save a Little Face

Hey yall, today i’ll be covering the topic of Politeness Theory. This theory looks at ways in which we can “save face”. It attempts to theorize what we do in everyday life to make conversations feel a bit more comfortable.

The Principle of Face Saving

Face saving messages are those that preserve the image of the other person and do nothing to insult the person or make him or her appear in a negative light. The principle holds that you should never embarrass anyone, especially in public. Always allow people to save face, even if this means avoiding the truth – as when you tell someone he or she did good work, even though the job was actually poorly executed.

We have conversations with various people everyday, whether it be our close friends, professors at school or our parents/family members. In order to get what we want from these people, we adjust our language to suit. With our friends we feel a lot more relaxed so we use informal language like “pass me that book on the table” or we would tell them to “shut up”. On the other hand, you should never tell an adult to “shut up” because that’s very rude and they are our elders/ figures of authority. In this case, we relate to them with formal speech “Could you kindly give me that book on the table, please… if you don’t mind”.

Image result for politeness theory
This diagram is an example of positive politeness

Let’s talk about face needs. You may be thinking to yourself, what does she mean by “face
needs?”  Well, this deals with the different ways we achieve politeness. Face needs focuses on positive and negative politeness. Examples of positive politeness are when we as people desire to feel appreciated and protected. Additionally, it is the desire to be approved and appreciated – I’m sure we all can relate to this in some way or another, right? You can do this by showing concern for your friends and family members, giving people compliments (I personally love to give compliments) and show respect or honor towards people in general.

Politeness strategies are established as a way of saving the hearers’ “face.” When I talk about “face” in this aspect, it means the respect that an individual has for themselves, and maintaining their self-esteem in public or in private settings. Usually you try to avoid embarrassing the other person, or making them feel uncomfortable – no one likes to feel embarrassed. Which brings me to Face Threatening Acts (FTAs). FTAs are committed whenever we behave in a way that could potentially fail to meet positive face needs. Those things that lead to people feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable.


There are good and bad FTAs:

1) Request only = bad FTA | “Can I get an extension on this assignment?”

2) Request & compliment = Positive Politeness (PP) | “Your hair looks nice today, could you please lend me $20”

3) Apology + request = Negative Politeness (NP) | “I’m sorry to put you in this position but can you give me an extension on this assignment, please? I would really appreciate it”

In the video below, you’ll see a perfect example of Negative Politeness


Wx = D(s,H) + P (H,S) = Rx

This calculation relates to the idea that the amount of Work (W)  one puts into being polite depends on the social distance (D) between the speaker  (S) and the hearer (H), plus the power (P) of the hearer (H) over the speaker (S) plus the risk (R) of hurting the other person. This can also be an attempt to make the theory aesthetically appealing.

Personally, I can definitely relate to and agree with this theory. Being the sensitive person that I am, I not only listen to people’s tone of voice but I also watch their nonverbal ques (don’t judge me). Have you ever heard the term “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? I feel like the basis on how we communicate with each other relies on how well the other person receives it.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s