Saving face

Saving face is an important part of minimizing and resolving conflicts voluntarily. In an arbitration or in litigation, the other party doesn’t have to agree to anything. But in a facilitated negotiation or mediation, both (or all) sides must agree. Creating a way for a party to save face may be crucial to secure that party’s agreement. No one likes to feel humiliated and sometimes a person will fiercely resist what looks like an embarrassing defeat, even if it would make sense to reach a voluntary resolution.

Allowing the other side to save face, by making some sort of concession, can be the difference between resolution and impasse. At times, the parties are unable to do a conciliatory dance on their own. A mediator can help by framing comments in a positive fashion, highlighting positives that may get lost in the shuffle, or in finding areas of agreement that are hard for the parties to see. Sometimes a party who appears to have the upper hand needs to be reminded to avoid a perception that he is stealing the other person’s dignity. The agreement can be lost completely if one side squeezes the other too hard.

Posted in Basics of Mediation and Conflict, Monday, June 23rd, 2008

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