Politeness Theory


In this video, we’re going to talk about
two related concepts from Goffman as well as Brown and Levinson. Politeness
theory and face. These concepts will help us as emerging leaders in the workplace
have difficult conversations a little more smoothly. So there’s a lot of value
in these concepts that can help us in our leadership development. So let’s get
into the details. Hello again friends I’m Alex Lyon and if we have not met yet and
you’ve never subscribed to this channel, Communication Coach, is here to help you increase your impact so you can lead the people around you to higher levels
of excellence. Everything on this channel is about communication skills or
leadership skills. Snd that’s why today we’re talking about politeness theory
and face. These are two related ideas that will help you have difficult
conversations more smoothly so you can solve those organizational problems that
are hard to talk about. So let’s start with politeness theory. Politness theory
came to us several decades ago and essentially it says that we have a
universal desire across the globe in every culture to be treated with
politeness. Now, politeness looks a little different depending upon where you go
but we all want to be treated politely. And so when we’re talking about
difficult topics if we use politeness it’ll be that much easier. So that’s why
we have to talk about this notion of face. Within this idea of politeness
we all have a desired self-image a way that publicly we want to be seen. When
someone comes to talk to us about a problem, one of the reasons why it’s
difficult to talk about sticky issues is because we don’t know how to talk to
people without putting them in a bad light, without threatening their face.
Every time we come in with an issue or make a request we have the potential to
make what’s called a face-threatening act, an FTA,
face-threatening act. When we talk to people we have to have a sense for how
to navigate this conversation. So face has two parts. First the positive and
then the negative. Positive face is where we want to be esteemed and admired and
looked up to and respected by the people around us. That’s how we want to be seen in a positive light. There’s also negative
face and a negative sense we want to be free from people imposing on our freedom,
on our ability to make choices and on our decisions, because if someone is able to impose on us and take our choices away that diminishes us. That lowers our
position in the group socially. So we need both positive and negative face to
be in place for us to feel like our face needs are met. So here are some ways that we can talk about this and apply this to professional settings to have difficult
conversation. We’ll start with a really easy one. I often have to request
letters of recommendation for myself. Let’s I’m going up for a promotion of
some sort at work and when I ask people for a letter of recommendation I have to
think about what this means. They get nothing out of it. So how I ask for
this really matters. If I were to use positive face (politeness) I would build them up and show them that I respect and esteem them. I would say hey I wanted to ask you for
a letter of recommendation. I’m asking you because you’re an expert in the
field. You’re extremely familiar with my work. Nobody knows my material like you
do and I think you’d be the perfect person to write a letter for me. So I’m
building them up. I’m showing them I respect them and I admire
that person. The other one is negative face. I want to be sure that they know
that I’m not imposing on them. I don’t want to be someone who’s pushing in and trying
to take away their choices, that they’re obligated to write this letter. So I
would approach it like this. If I were using negative face, I would say I wanted
to ask you for a letter recommendation. Now of course feel free to say no. I know
the deadline may not work for you and it’s pretty short notice and I’m sure
you’re very very busy but if you have the time and you’re able to it would be amazing to get a letter of recommendation from you. So there’s an example of negative
face so you can use both of these of course but this is a way to get into a
hard conversation and that’s a simple request for a letter. Let’s use a more
serious request. Let’s say you’re in a professional setting and somebody around you is racking up the expenses when they travel on a business trip and you’re the
one who has to talk about it. Now this is a real problem that can hurt the
organization. How do you have this conversation without making it worse?
Keep in mind politeness theory and both positive and negative
face and you’re gonna have a easier time doing this. Here’s how it sounds talking
about this with positive face. You might say hey Brad you know you’re one of our
best salespeople and we know how hard you work. We all appreciate that and
respect what you do here and how you contribute. We do have to talk about this
expense report, however, because the expenses are going above the allowed
limit. And so let’s make a time to go over this. So here I built Brad up and it
makes room to have a more difficult part of that conversation a reality. Otherwise
I might know how to know how to get there. If we were his negative face we
would protect Brad from feeling like we’re imposing upon him even though we
have to talk about this. So we say hey Brad we need to talk about the expense
report. It’s going above what’s allowed in our organization. And look. We don’t
have to do this now. We can do it tomorrow if that works better for you,
but we really do need to make a time to do it. So here I’m trying to remove this
sense that I’m imposing on him and he’s I’m bossing him around and I’m taking
his freedoms away. You can combine these, of course, and use both positive
and negative face to reduce the chances that you’re going to deliver an intense
face-threatening act. When people feel threatened like this, they’re less likely
to give you what you want and so having these concepts of politeness and face
and using these in our difficult conversations will make it much easier
to talk about hard things. So question of the day, how do you see yourself and your professional settings applying these concepts? I would love to hear your
comments in that section below. Thanks. God bless and I will see you in
the next video.

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