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“Empathy and face are intertwined. You can’t really have one without the other.” – Maya Hu-Chan, Saving Face

During the pandemic, most of us became experts at remote work experiences and technologies. One of the largest mainstream personal and digital transformation shifts occurred over video conference platforms like Zoom. We came to depend on screen time-social interactions that featured the faces of colleagues, co-workers, customers, friends, and family. 

In her new book, Saving Face, leadership consultant Maya Hu-Chan discusses the cultural importance of the Chinese concept of “face.” The face represents everything from a person’s self-worth to their status, reputation, and social position. By honoring both your face and others, you are primed to exhibit compassion and build a workforce that bridges cultural differences and forges mutually beneficial relationships.

Hu-Chan explains the three expressions of how the “face” concept works:

  1. “Honoring face” includes relationship-building interactions that relay respect and regard (e.g., soliciting advice, expressing gratitude, recognizing someone’s contributions).
  2. “Losing face” happens when one person feels diminished, misjudged, or disrespected.
  3. “Saving face” is an act of preservation when things could turn ugly or tough. 

By being able to see people’s faces, we are more likely to connect with empathy or “the ability to understand the feelings of another,” says Hu-Chan. How empathy manifests in our remote work and relationships includes authenticity, working with people across borders from other nations or cultures, in necessary conflict resolution, and more. work_from_home_qqdics

To establish long-term, face-saving business relationships, she recommends a BUILD model.

  • “Benevolence and accountability” – Address issues and problems benevolently and demonstrate consideration for others’ feelings and respect for their contributions.
  •  “Understanding” – Save face and gain a comprehensive gasp through complex challenges and difficulties.
  • “Interacting” – The way you convey your messages through tone, body language, facial expressions, and word choice is equally as important.
  • “Learning” – Develop a passion for lifelong learning and curiosity.
  • “Developing”– Practice benevolent management by using all of the qualities in the BUILD equation.

“Psychological safety” was identified in a Google study of high-performing teams as an essential part of their success. In a psychologically safe environment, team members were more likely to take risks because they were given the grace to fail without experiencing a negative fall-out. The teams in the study became more agile, innovative, and successful.

By using a BUILD model for establishing face-saving relationships and promoting a psychologically safe environment, we can continue the progress made through the pandemic’s necessitated remote workforce. Our common humanity was a saving grace during the crisis of 2020, and leaning into it is exactly what will help us excel in the future.