Loss of Face
Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative Chief Whip, is getting a whipping from the media for being rude to policeman outside 10 Downing Street – and so he should. He has forgotten what for me was a basic lesson I learnt early in life in Japan – Loss of Face.
Loss of Face simply refers to losing honour, or more simply put being made a fool of. In my view there is rarely if ever a need to be rude to anyone, to make them look foolish – and to do so only makes you foolish too. This applies particularly in a work environment – nothing is to be gained by shouting and berating people. Not only does it discourage the person being berated, it demotivates others around them too. You won’t get people to come to you with ideas and help if you have a tendency to make others lose face – they will feel like your ire may be focussed on them at any time and will do what they can to avoid that; it’s just a basic human response.
There are plenty of ways to upbraid someone without making them lose face, a quiet word in a coffee break, a personal note, a private meeting, etc. And if someone is being obstinate, or being a “jobs-worth”, one thing is for sure, shouting at them won’t make them change.
The corollary also applies – you can effectively give Face. Do all ideas have to be your own? – certainly not. Welcome contributions, especially those that correct your errors, provide critical insight or additive to yours – and be happy to publicly acknowledge such contributions. Don’t always insist that your ideas must be attributed to you – help others outside of meetings to improve their ideas and let them gain the credit. You will be thanked by them and they will usually return the favour (and if they don’t you’ll have a learnt an important lesson about their character anyway).
All too Utopian for you? No it isn’t – I have tried (but not always been successful – though I have never shouted at anyone in a work situation) to follow this principle ever since I was a lad and really understood what it meant. My Loss of Face light bulb was finally switched on for good as a result of an embarrassing lesson from my childhood which thanks to my father’s good sense has stuck with me to this day.
I was an intellectual lad and was at the upper end of my class in terms of achievement. This meant that often I and some others could get bored as we waited for others to catch up and I am sorry to say I was occasionally disruptive as a result with the weaker teachers. This led to me being changed to the Head of Geography’s class, a rather stricter, but excellent lady teacher. I recall we studied glaciers and rivers – physical geography. One day I turned up for class early, on the day we were going to do a test. I was enjoying lessons with this teacher and I certainly had no need to cheat, but temptation overcame me when I saw the questions and answers on her desk. I am sorry to say I cheated and looked at the answers. The result was I got a ridiculously high mark and was accused of cheating to which, a little to my credit, I admitted straight away. Cue one letter to my parents and one rightly cross father. However instead of punishing me for cheating he used the occasion to reinforce my understanding of Loss of Face. I recall his words: “Julian, I am not going to punish you for cheating, as many would have done the same with the temptation, even though you didn’t need to; I won’t punish you for the crass stupidity of showing off and getting near perfect marks, which made your cheating obvious; but you of all people, raised in Japan, should know that you have made your teacher lose face – she looks foolish to all her fellow teachers because she left the questions and answers on her desk for you to look at. Through your dishonesty you have made her lose face and it is for that I am going to punish you. I was punished and I learnt that lesson and have tried to follow it to this day. Thanks Dad.