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It sure is. Saving face is an important psychological factor subliminally affecting many business dealings.

Saving face is overlooked all too often as a serious factor in western-style business contacts and negotiations. Many westerners consider saving face or losing face to be curiosities of Asian culture which are unimportant to the rest of the modern business world. If you are one of those who feel this way, you might want to rethink your position.

Robert Hendrickson, an etymologist, points out that the Chinese have a phrase, tiu lien, which means losing ones dignity before others. Nineteenth-century English traders in China translated this phrase as to lose face, and the resulting English expression to save face, meaning to maintain ones dignity, was born.

The fear of losing face is a deeply imbedded concern, often denied or not admitted to others, that one will somehow be less highly respected if a certain action is taken or decision made. This human feeling has many names and manifestations, and it is common everywhere, not just in the Far East.

Have you ever been mystified at not being able to sell, for no apparent reason, a logical and well-thought-out proposal to your boss? There could have been many reasons, but you probably never thought that saving face might be one of them. How much can you accomplish by telling her that an idea (which you didnt know had been one of hers) wasnt working and needed to be changed? By recognizing such a situation, you might be able to successfully present your suggestion as an enhancement of the original idea, and not as a rejection and personal affront to the boss.

The cost to you of allowing a person to save face is usually small, and the rewards can be substantial. The desire to be respected can sometimes be more important to an individual than anything else. The person you are negotiating or working with may go to great lengths to save face – to preserve his dignity – even if he feels that he has to reject an idea which might actually be to his advantage. Make small concessions to him, if you can, in order to win your major objective.

Begin to think of ways to allow others to save face. Put yourself in their place and anticipate points – possibly emotional or irrational factors – which may be blocking agreement. Do as much advance research as possible to get a better idea of elements which cannot be put into words with dignity, but which might affect their decisions. Incorporate throwaways in your proposal, for example, which make face-saving easy.

With some people the desire to save face is always there. It is subtle and subliminal, buried beneath the surface, but always affecting their response. You should be sensitive to this aspect of others personalities, as well as to your own, and learn to work with it. Saving face is an important part of doing business.

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