Post by Frances Cole Jones, contributing Women On Business writer
As you know, in many Asian cultures including China, “Face” – reputation, dignity, or prestige – is important both in business and in daily life, and a great deal of time is spent ensuring that not only do you not lose face, but that you never cause another to do so.
What many people don’t realize is that as a practical matter some people’s “faces” are “thicker” than others – in other words, instead of being governed by exquisite rules of honor, etiquette, and behavior in every situation, many Chinese people are tough and flexible, yet still retain “face”. That mode of being is called having a “Thick Face”.
There is, however, still another definition of having a “Thick Face,” which was introduced to me by a gentleman who had been working in China for many years. His story began when he and his company were invited to bid to undertake a major infrastructure project near Xian, a prospect about which they were very excited. They were less excited when they learned that all their competitors had also received similarly effusive invitations to bid. When my friend asked a more experienced comprador what was going on, he was told, “The Mayor has a Thick Face – he does this all the time. Either he has a nephew working for a competitor who wants to learn all he can about your sector and the various offerings, or he just wants to give his sons some negotiation practice. He probably has no intention of buying anything from any of you, but he won’t lose face when negotiations mysteriously collapse – he’s happy to put you to work for his own ends, even if it wastes your time.” As you can see, this definition of a Thick Face implies something more – a certain shrewdness, even ruthlessness, in dealing with outsiders.
How can this notion be helpful to you? After all, many people would regard these as hardball or “unfair” techniques, and there are certainly situations in which I would agree. That said, there is value to this idea within the realm of job interviews—in particular, going on interviews despite the fact that you have no intention of taking the job. What’s the point of the exercise, then? After all, your friends will think you’ve been on tons of interviews and never been hired, a situation which might cause you to feel you’ve lost face. If you adopt a Thick Face, however, you won’t mind that downside, because you’re getting the interview and negotiation practice—an exercise that’s never wasted.
For example, if you’re working on your responses to your greatest strength/weakness, now is the time to see which answers garner the best reaction. If you’ve found you choke when asked, “So, what kind of number are you looking for?” now is the time to name a number at the high end of outrageous, just for the practice of doing so with equanimity. If there is a hole in your resume or skill set that always makes you flinch, now is your opportunity to practice discussing it with candor and ease.
And finally, there’s always the possibility you’ll go on an interview for a job you never thought you’d want and find out it’s exactly what you’re looking for.