Politeness Theory and Conversational Refusals

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Principal investigator:

Danette Ifert Johnson

Ithaca College

Email: djohnson@ithaca.edu

Homepage: http://faculty.ithaca.edu/djohnson/


Sample size: 531

Field period: 10/06/2004-01/19/2005

Abstract

The present study investigates the association between threats to requesters’ and refusers’ face needs and perceptions of refusal message effectiveness and appropriateness. Results suggest that perceived refusal effectiveness is negatively associated with threat to a requester’s negative face but positively associated with threat to a refuser’s positive face. Perceived refusal appropriateness was associated with interactions of multiple face threats. Overall, results support that judgments of appropriateness are influenced by the combination of face threats present. Specifically, low levels of one type of face threat are associated with perceptions that increasing other face threats is inappropriate.

Hypotheses

H1: Threat to a requester’s negative face after refusal will be negatively associated with perceived refusal effectiveness.
H2: Threat to a refuser’s positive face after refusal will be positively associated with perceived refusal effectiveness.
H3: Threat to a requester’s positive face after refusal will be negatively associated with perceived refusal effectiveness.
H4: Threat to a requester’s negative face will be perceived as inappropriate but this relationship will be of greater magnitude when threat to a refuser’s negative face is low than when threat to a refuser’s negative face is high.
H5: Threat to a refuser’s positive face will be perceived as inappropriate but this relationship will be of greater magnitude when threat to a refuser’s negative face is low than when threat to a refuser’s negative face is high.
H6: Threat to a requester’s positive face will be perceived as inappropriate but this relationship will be of greater magnitude when threat to the refuser’s positive face is low than when threat to the refuser’s positive face is high.

Experimental Manipulations

Telephone respondents were asked to imagine making a request (to borrow money, to provide a job reference, to pet sit for a weekend) of one of two hypothetical targets (friend or family member). Respondents were then provided with one of four possible refusal statements the request target might express in refusing the request.

Outcomes

Respondents rated how likely they would be to persist in seeking compliance after the refusal statement and how appropriate or polite they found the refusal message to be. They also rated how much the refusal message created threats to the positive and
negative face needs of both requester and refuser.

Summary of Results

Results suggest that threat to a refuser's negative face was negatively associated with refusal effectiveness and that threat to a refuser's positive face was positively related to refusal effectiveness (for favor requests only). No relationship was found between refusal effectiveness and threat to a requester's positive face. For hypotheses 4-6, when a low level of one face threat was present, requesters found it inappropriate to increase a second type of face threat.

Conclusions

These results support a more complex conceptualization of face threat than that originally proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987).Perceptions of effectiveness were related to threats to both refuser’s and requester’s face, reinforcing the need to consider threats to both speaker and hearer face during interaction (Craig et al., 1986). More significantly, multiple face threats are associated with perceived refusal appropriateness.

References

Johnson, D. I. (2007, July). Politeness theory and conversational refusals: Associations between multiple types of face threat and perceived competence. /Western Journal of Communication, 71.
(Copy of article included with materials)