Academic journal article Communication Studies

Identity Implications of Influence Goals: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Interaction Goals and Facework

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Identity Implications of Influence Goals: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Interaction Goals and Facework

Article excerpt


Compliance-gaining episodes have been described as complex because they often involve the attempt to pursue multiple, conflicting goals (O'Keefe, 1988). Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness theory offers one account for the potential complexity of compliance gaining. From this viewpoint, seeking to alter another person's behavior is inherently face threatening; hence, speakers use politeness to balance the competing goals of encouraging compliance and supporting the message target's face. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the politeness theory analysis, including its inability to explain why multiple, distinct threats to face arise in different compliance-gaining situations (Craig, Tracy, & Spisak, 1986; Wilson, Aleman, & Leatham, 1998).

In a revised analysis of face, Wilson and colleagues (Wilson et al., 1998; Wilson, Kim, & Meischke, 1991/1992; Wilson & Kunkel, 2000) argue that individuals associate specific influence goals, such as asking favors or enforcing unfulfilled obligations, with distinct potential threats to both parties' face. Participants' interaction goals and messages (facework) thus vary across situations defined by different influence goals. This study explores the applicability of the revised analysis to persons from Japan as well as the U.S. Specifically, we look at how students from these two national cultures manage multiple goals in compliance-gaining situations defined by two influence goals (favors versus obligations) and involving two types of relationships (same-sex friends versus acquaintances). To provide a background for the study, we review the revised analysis of face during compliance-gaining episodes. Research on individualism-collectivism then is discussed to explain possible differences between Japanese and U.S. cultures in the face goals individuals pursue when seeking compliance with friends and acquaintances.


Building on Goffman's (1967) classic analysis, Brown and Levinson (1987) posit two types of face: positive and negative. Positive face is the concern individuals have for their own image and approval by significant others. Negative face is the concern individuals have for their own autonomy. Individuals can protect their own positive or negative face, protect another's positive or negative face, or even attack the other's face (Craig et al., 1986; Wilson, 1990).

It long has been recognized that speakers often form and pursue multiple goals when seeking a message target's compliance, including goals relevant to both parties' face (Clark & Delia, 1979; Dillard, Segrin, & Harden, 1989; Hample & Dallinger, 1990; Lim & Bowers, 1991; O'Keefe, 1988; Schrader & Dillard, 1998; Tracy, Craig, Smith, & Spisak, 1984). What has not been as clearly understood until recently is why speakers would pursue distinct sets of goals in different compliance-gaining situations. Why would speakers tend to worry about not imposing too much on the target and not looking lazy themselves in one situation, but tend to worry instead about allowing the target to make his or her own decision and not looking nosy themselves in a second situation?

According to Wilson and colleagues' (1998) revised analysis of face, speakers who seek compliance identify and orient to potential threats to both parties' face by relying on two widely-shared sources of knowledge. The first type is knowledge about the defining conditions (i.e., constitutive rules) for performing directives (e.g., requests, recommendations), the class of speech acts at the heart of any attempt to seek compliance (Searle, 1976; Tracy et al., 1984). The second type is knowledge of influence goals, or common reasons why speakers attempt to alter a target's behavior. Individuals interpret compliance-gaining episodes based on their understandings of specific influence goals. During such an episode, the influence goal "brackets the situation. …

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