Fight and flight: A multilevel analysis of facework strategies in intercultural face-threatening acts

Xiaowen Guan, Hye Eun Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


This study investigates facework strategies of managing face-threatening acts in intercultural interactions where communicators’ cultural backgrounds are different from each other. Based on a pre-study with U.S. (n = 89) and Chinese (n = 76) college students, four scenarios featuring intercultural face-threatening acts were developed, where a Chinese student communicated politely and appropriately according to the Chinese culture, but the exact same act was considered otherwise in U.S. culture. In the main study, U.S. college students (N = 217) were given these scenarios and asked to report the general level of face needs, perceived face threats, and facework strategies in each scenario. Multilevel analyses (i.e., Hierarchical Linear Modeling) were employed to parse out the different levels of influence in order to understand both separate and joint impacts of situational face threats and individual face needs on facework strategies. Results showed that: 1) intercultural communicators use both mitigating (i.e., fleeing) and aggravating (i.e., fighting) facework strategies, and a slight preference is given to mitigating strategies; 2) facework strategies are more sensitive to particular situational conditions than to individual dispositions; and 3) individuals’ value for others’ face moderates the relationship between situational conditions and facework strategies. The current study provides empirical evidence of challenges in establishing meaningful intercultural relationships by identifying the multiple levels of impact on facework strategies in intercultural communication. Further discussion and implications of the findings are also included.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-81
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
StatePublished - 1 May 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Face
  • Facework
  • Intercultural
  • Multilevel


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