As part of the Modern Learning Leader Programme from the first webinar was about “The Human Condition”, with Emotion at Work expert Phil Willcox. You can read my post about ‘what is the human condition?‘.

“A mask tells us more than a face” – Oscar Wilde

There was a 45 minute video that Phil prepared specifically for the programme, which talked about “face”.

A google of “facework theory” shows a general purpose description on the Talk About Talk website as “the maintenance of one’s perceived identity”.

The website goes on to state that “this theory is concerned with the ways in which we construct and preserve our self images, or the image of someone else”.

Wikipedia tells me:

The sociologist Erving Goffman introduced the concept of “face” into social theory with his (1955) article “On Face-work: An Analysis of Ritual Elements of Social Interaction” and (1967) book Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior.

According to Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective, face is a mask that changes depending on the audience and the variety of social interaction. People strive to maintain the face they have created in social situations. They are emotionally attached to their faces, so they feel good when their faces are maintained; loss of face results in emotional pain, so in social interactions people cooperate by using politeness strategies to maintain each other’s faces.

Interestingly, the Talk About Talk website also states that “face can be built, changed, or lost during communication exchanges that may threaten the way we want to be seen”. This is an important part of communication with others, about how we portray ourselves and other’s perceive us, as well as interplay of communication between the two – which could be explicit or unspoken.

In his opening video Phil highlights that when you move to a new organisation, you can choose what images you want to portray and therefore how people perceive you. This resonated as I recalled moving from a technical training role into a people training role.

In the office, I didn’t want to jump in to all of the Excel problems etc as I didn’t want to be seen as “the IT geek” or “the person to ask all the software problems”. It felt very mean at first not to immediately help people with everything, but I knew it wouldn’t do me any favours for that to be my “face” or, as Phil introduced me to, “stuck in face”.

This also relates a bit to a podcast chat I had with Phil about, in my terminology, the different ‘persona’s’ we have, most specifically on social media.

Faces reflection

Phil gave us a document to think about our different faces, from a specific time we were communicating with others. I picked a particular client meeting to think about and started making some notes about my “competence face”, which is my ability to do the task or job that is requested of me, my “company face” which represents or takes on the identity of my organisation and others.

I was recalling the meeting and making notes of my thoughts about how I showed my technical competence in the meeting about the learning solution, which I thought I did pretty well. I reflected on the company face, about the crossover of personality between myself my Lightbulb Moment, being my company and my approach to business.

I wrote some more notes before seeing a Slack notification. Slack is a communication platform that Sukh Pabial is using for the Modern Learning Leader programme. We also use it at Lightbulb and I’m considering it for my programme delivery, but that’s another conversation…

Another member of the Slack channel, on this topic, included this in their post: “Certainly going to be watching myself this afternoon and evening for when my words aren’t in time with the face I think I’m adopting and that which others are seeing.”

This made me really think again about my reflections – I was hoping for self awareness but, if I’m really honest, they were heading towards self congratulatory. The comment above made me look at this again and realise where I was forgetting my conflict.

Specifically it reminded me of where my “company face” (at it’s most basic, wanting the business and the biggest value possible) and “competence face” where in a little conflict, of understanding the client, their needs (including budget) and wanting to recommend the best solution for the learners and organisation.

The need for social learning

The last piece of reflection from this comment was how important the Slack conversation was to get to this point. This person’s comment is the bit that gave me my lightbulb moment.

Without that comment, through that social learning channel that was collaborative and external to the specific learning event, I wouldn’t have had that insight. That’s why the conversation around learning is so important.

You can read my other Modern Learning Leader blog posts

  1. What is a Modern Learning Leader?
  2. The human condition
  3. The human condition – faces and social learning
  4. Instructional design – reminder notes
  5. What sUX about L&D design?