Losing Face and the Loss of Psychological Safety

On Wednesday, June 10, we had the pleasure of speaking with Maya Hu-Chan – executive coach, leadership development educator, and author of the recently published book, “Saving Face – How to Preserve Dignity and Build Trust.” The focus of our conversation fell upon Saving Face, and how this act can create an environment of psychological safety and in effect cultivate a high-performance culture.

This blog post is Part 2 of our Saving Face Webinar Recap Series. To watch Part 2 of the conversation, check out the video below!

Losing face

Saving face should be a preventative measure. To preserve the dignity of others, we want to prevent them from losing face. During the webinar, Maya explained, “Losing face describes conditions where people feel devalued, humiliated or unappreciated.” This act provokes a wide range of negative feelings. These directly impact how we perform at work, how we share our ideas, communicate, and potentially how long someone stays with the company.

In saving face, we are protecting others from the negative experiences of losing face, and creating positive work environments as a result.

Spilled water is hard to regain

This is one proverb that Maya often heard growing up in Taiwan. Spilled water is hard to regain. How hard is it to get that water back in the glass? And is anyone going to want to drink it? “Once we have said or done something and the impact is there, sometimes it can cause permanent damage. Things are not going to be the same.” Leaders need to always consider the impact of their actions and be mindful of what they do and say. The road to repairing a relationship is a long one.

When competition is used as a performance tactic

The maintenance of face isn’t only something that happens between managers and their employees. It also happens between colleagues. In a work culture that promotes competition in order to drive performance rates, it might not be the manager that is causing another to lose face, but they are promoting an environment that encourages performance based on causing others to lose face. 

If we think about the behaviours that result from this culture, we see employees acting guarded, putting up defenses, due to feelings of insecurity and psychological unsafety. There may be certain high-performers who are able to elbow their way to the front of line. However, this leads to a culture of disengagement, where individuals’ responses are that of which they are under stressful situations: fight, flight, or freeze. And this is definitely not a high-performing culture for all. 

Similar to psychological unsafety, when individuals lose face, they will constantly feel like they need to protect themselves. In cultures where you must put others down in order to elevate your own status, you lose the individual, and you lose the team. And remember, spilled water is hard to regain.

If you would like to assess the whether you have a high-performance culture, where teams achieve more goals while having a positive, fulfilling human experience of work please take our free leader survey and we’d be happy to debrief it with you

Want to watch the rest of the conversation? Click here to request the full webinar recording.

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