English Language

Positive and Negative Face Needs - What is the Difference!?

Lisa Tran

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I am constantly asked this question by many of my students, and since they've been asking it frequently, I believe others may want to know too!

The study design has been updated for 2016-2020 and part of this update is the inclusion and awareness of ‘positive and negative face needs’.

To keep it really simple to start off with, these are the key definitions of both terms:

  • Positive face refers to a person’s need to be accepted or liked by others, and to be treated as a member of a group knowing that their wants are shared by others.
  • Negative face refers to a person’s need to be independent and not be imposed on by others.

In order to maintain social relationships, people need to acknowledge the face of other people. Thus we seek to make the other person feel good.

People aim to build up the closeness and rapport with each other (their positive face) while trying to avoid being a threat to the other person's social distance (their negative face).

Positive Politeness Strategies:

Shows closeness, intimacy, solidarity and rapportNotices or attends to the other person’s wants, needs or possessionsE.g. That's a nice suit, where did you get it from?Intensifies one’s interest, approval or sympathy for the other personE.g. I am very sorry to hear your grandfather passed away - my condolences to yourself and your family.Uses in-group identity markers e.g. in-group address forms, jargon and slang.What's up Davo? How ya pulling up today after a big night mate?Chooses topics you’ll both agree onE.g. Mutual interests to build social rapportHedges and/or tells white lies to avoid disagreementPresupposes or asserts common ground between peopleE.g. talking about the weather - "it's such a nice day today, isn't it?"Makes offers or promisesAssumes or asserts reciprocityUse of “we” rather than “you” (incl. conjugations of each pronoun)E.g. "Let's go guys!" - creates a sense of social inclusion rather than exclusion

Negative Politeness Strategies

Gives the other person choices, allowing them to maintain their freedomE.g. Would you like to meet up tomorrow night or next week? What suits you?Uses indirect speechE.g. You couldn't possibly tell me the time, please?Does not presume or assume by asking questions such as “could you do this for me?”Begins with “This probably won’t be necessary but...”Minimises imposition on the other person "I just wanted to ask if I could...”Gives deference by the use of certain forms of addressE.g. “We look forward very much to seeing you again" - after you've left a new cafe or restaurantApologises to the other person by indicating reluctance or asking forgiveness "I’m sorry to be asking you this...”Makes requests/statements less personal by using “you” instead of “I"E.g. "You couldn't give me a can of coke, could you?" rather than "I want a can of coke"

To see the list above in a summarised format, please click here.

I hope this helps out with your studies! Please leave a comment below if you have any questions :)

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