Why there’s more to Politeness than meets the eye

According to Politeness theory, selling and negotiating are among the most delicate of social interactions. This is because our offers and requests – the essence of what we do – are experienced as “FTAs” (Face threatening actions) by both parties.

Having built on the work of Erving Goffman, the authors of this theory distinguish between two types face. The first is called positive face, which is the universal desire to be liked and approved of by others. The second is called negative face, which is the universal desire to be unimpeded personally and not imposed upon by others.

Since we as salespeople and negotiators usually want to make the sale or close the deal, we often cannot avoid attempting FTAs. Once committed, we have two options: on record messages and off record messages. On record messages are direct and unambiguous, with high risk to face value. Off record messages are indirect and widely ambiguous, with lower risk to face value.

Finally, in addition to on/off record considerations, we should consider selecting messages based on which version of face is most being threatened. Paying others in positive politeness will help us reinforce positive face, while paying others in negative politeness will help us reinforce negative face.  

In the next post, we’ll take a deeper glance at these factors and what they mean for us as salespeople and negotiators.

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