According to Oetzel et al. (2000), “facework is a set of communication strategies a person uses to ratify self-face and to maintain, support, or dare another person’s face.” It is a communicative style that people use to control their social self-respect and to support or challenge others. During an encounter with someone, much of the activity on the face can be assumed as an effort on that person’s part to get through the encounter and all the unanticipated and unintentional events that can cast the participants in undesirable light, without upsetting the affiliation of the participants. If there is a discrepancy between the events and expectations, there is likely to be a negative emotional reaction. Anticipated signs such as gestures and glances are either withheld or given (Oetzel et al., 2000).
Facework practices contrast between different cultures and subcultures and are selected from socially constructed and circumscribed range of rituals. On the one hand, individuals from a collectivistic culture typically adopt encounter styles of avoiding or integrating because the face of the group is the main concern. On the other hand, individuals from an individualistic culture embrace a conflict style of dominating since their main concern is to self-face as they have a “face” free from that of the group. Individualistic cultures function with a more direct, low-context facework with emphasis placed on verbal communication and nonverbal signs. Collectivistic cultures in their turn focus attention on the nonverbal restraints. There are three predominant facework strategies: avoiding, integrating and dominating. The first one is described as maintaining a sincere image with the aim of winning the conflict. The second one tries to preserve coherence in a relationship by dealing with the conflict indirectly. The last one aims at gratified resolution and maintaining a relationship. This difference stems from the values and customs of each -culture.
I have a close friend who has experienced culture shock. Her father was in the military so they moved a lot from one European military bases to another According to her, the frequent movement meant she was in a constant cycle of transition. At first, the experience was new and exciting because there was a new school, house and surroundings. After the ‘honeymoon’ phase of moving waned off, she experienced culture shock. In Italy she was tormented by her American classmates for speaking British English words such as ‘pardon’ instead of ‘excuse me’
Culture plays a vital role in nonverbal communication. The latter as a body movement can differ in meaning in various societies. The head movement in Indian and Danish cultures can differ in meaning. In Denmark, for instance, a negative shake of the head, when the head moves from side to side around the neck axis means ‘no.’ The more energetic the movement is, the more strong ‘no’ it means. On the other hand, a conforming head nod where the chin is up and down means both “I understand and yes” in Denmark.
In India, head movements have very different meaning from those in Denmark. A negative shaking of the head from side to side around the neck axis can be interpreted as no in the latter country, but in India, you hardly see a strong head movement, since it can be incorrect. A tilt with the head from the left towards the right means “we have an agreement.” The higher in the hierarchy a person in India is the more discreet the move will be. However, an Indian tilt can be misunderstood as loud and clear Danish “maybe.” A succession of fast tilts with the head from side to side in a conversation with an Indian can be observed as the confirming nod in Denmark that means “I understand”.
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