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Losing Face

What happens for some of us when we are embroiled in conflict is that we or the other person “lose face”. This expression essentially means being or feeling shamed or humiliated. However, the origin, according to The Phrase Finder reads as follows:

“‘Lose face’ began life in English as a translation of the Chinese phrase ‘tiu lien’. That phrase may also be expressed in English as ‘to suffer public disgrace’, that is, to be unable to show one’s face in public.”

Though it is not necessarily a matter of not wanting to show oneself in public, this notion of losing face can be devastating and have an adverse impact on those experiencing it.

Losing face can arise for any number of reasons and it typically leaves the person feeling ashamed, dejected, wronged, embarrassed, depressed, hopeless and other such negative emotions. As a consequence of losing face, people who feel shamed might withdraw, yield or walk away from a conflict feeling dissatisfied due to no resolution or the opportunity to assert their views sufficiently. They might also become emotional and combative – arguing relentlessly and becoming increasingly aggressive and defensive.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog invites you to consider a time when you lost face in a conflict when answering the following questions:

  • What was the situation?
  • For what reasons did you lose face in that situation?
  • What specifically did the other person say or do that contributed to your experience (if you didn’t answer this in the previous question)?
  • What reasons do/did you attribute to her or him for saying or doing that (your answer to the previous question)?
  • What was the impact on you in that experience (i.e. how did it feel)?
  • How did you respond to the other person?
  • What would someone see if looking at you when you lost face?
  • What do you think you could have done differently, if anything, to prevent losing face?
  • What might work to be able to gain back your face?
  • What will be different on your face when you gain it back? What will you save when you regain your face?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?


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