When we attempt to save another’s face, we can pay attention to their negative face wants or their positive face wants. A person’s negative face is the need to be independent, to have freedom of action, and not to be imposed on by others. The world “negative” here doesn’t mean “bad”, it’s just the opposite pole from “positive”. A person’s positive face is the need to be accepted, even liked, by others, to be treated as a member of the same group, and to know that his or her wants are shared by others. In simple terms, negative face is the need to be independent and positive face is the need to be connected. So, a face saving act which is oriented to the person’s negative face will the tend to show deference, emphasize the importance of the other’s time or concerns, and even include an apology for the imposition or interruption. This is also called negative politeness. A face saving act will is concerned with the person’s positive face will tend to show solidarity, emphasize that both speakers want the same thing, and that they have a common goal. This is also called positive politeness.
Figure; How to get a pen from someone else (following Brown and Levinson 1987)
For example, you arrive at an impotant lecture, pull out your notebook to take notes, but discover that you don’t have anything to write with. You think that the person sitting next to you may provide the solution. In this scenario, you are going to be ‘Self’ and the person next to you is going to be ‘Other’. You may be choose to be silent or do not say any word, but you start to rummage in your bag, search rather obviously through your pockets, go back into your bag, and go on. That’s what we called ‘Say Nothing’. This approach may or may not work, but if it does, it’s because the other offers and not because the self asks, as in:
Self: (look in bag)
Other: (offers pen) Here, you can use this.