Preserving face in refusal situations

Amber L. Besson, Michael E. Roloff, Gaylen D. Paulson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Individuals often fabricate socially appropriate reasons for rejecting a request while withholding real but hurtful ones. Such synthetic obstacles to compliance become conventionalized ways of turning down requests. However, when socially appropriate reasons are the genuine basis for refusal, rejecters desiring to comply must signal to the requester that the reason is real rather than synthetic. We conducted an experiment to explore how rejecters of a dating request adapt their messages so as to convince the requester that they are interested in going out with him or her but really cannot. Although most refusals contained linguistic face-work devices, targets faced with conventional obstacles, and who wanted to pursue a relationship with the requester, expressed counteroffers and expressions of interest. Those wishing to avoid future interaction relied on apologies, statements of appreciation for the offer, and expressions of concern for the requester's feelings. Implications for both encoding and decoding refusal messages are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-199
Number of pages17
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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