Most Americans know about “saving face,” the Asian concept of preserving reputation, dignity and prestige.
Less known is having a “thick face,” or being tough and adaptable while still saving face. There’s more to having a thick face, as defined by a Western businessman who worked for many years in China:
The executive and his company were excited about being invited to bid on a major infrastructure project near Xi’an. They grew less excited when they learned that their competitors had received similarly effusive invitations.
The businessman asked a colleague what was happening, and learned, “The mayor has a thick face. Either he has a nephew working for a competitor, or he wants to give his sons practice in negotiating. He probably has no intention of buying anything, but he won’t lose face when negotiations fail. He’s happy to put you to work for his own purposes, even if it wastes your time.”
Bottom line: A thick face means shrewdness, bordering on callousness, in dealing with outsiders.
— Adapted from The Wow Factor, Frances Cole Jones, Ballantine Books.