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Western Journal of Communication Vol. 71, No. 3, July 2007, pp.

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Politeness Theory and Conversational Refusals: Associations between Various Types of Face Threat and Perceived Competence
Danette Ifert Johnson

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 requesters negative face but positively associated with threat to a refusers 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. Keywords: Communication Competence; Competence; Politeness

Children refuse to perform chores. Patients fail to follow medical treatment guidelines. A friend declines a request for assistance. Requests are necessary to attain a variety of goals but refusals such as those above are a cost sometimes associated with seeking aid from others. Refusals obviously impede the instrumental goal of achieving compliance, and researchers have examined refusal strategies in contexts as diverse as rejecting alcohol offers (Harrington, 1997) and resisting sales pitches (Campbell & Davis, 2006). Refusals also have ramifications beyond thwarting compliance. Dillard, Segrin, and Harden (1989) noted the importance of identity and interaction goals
Data for this article were collected by the Time-Shared Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS), NSF Grant 0094964, Diana C. Mutz and Arthur Lupia, principal investigators. An earlier manuscript describing portions of the investigation reported here was presented at the 2005 National Communication Association Annual Meeting in Boston. Correspondence to: Danette Johnson, Department of Speech Communication, Ithaca College, 407 Muller Center, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA. E-mail: djohnson@ithaca.edu ISSN 1057-0314 (print)/ISSN 1745-1027 (online) # 2007 Western States Communication Association DOI: 10.1080/10570310701518427

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in influence interactions. Refusal potentially makes achieving more than one goal more difficult. For example, refusing an intimate partners request may hinder identity goals of appearing cooperative and supportive and, as a result, negatively affect long-term relationship development. Afifi and Lee (2000) observed the difficulty of balancing instrumental and identity goals when refusing sexual overtures, particularly when one wishes to maintain the relationship. Thus, various interpersonal goals are present, and refusals can influence interactants ongoing identities and relationships as well as instrumental outcomes. One theoretical perspective used to explain interactions where diverse interpersonal goals are present is politeness theory. Research grounded in politeness theory has led to several conclusions about face needs in interpersonal relationships. First, a single message can create more than one type of face threat (Johnson, Roloff, & Riffee, 2004a; Wilson, Aleman & Leatham, 1998) and may even support some face needs while threatening others (Erbert & Floyd, 2004). Second, speakers typically attend to their own and their partners face needs during interaction (Cupach & Metts, 1994; Lakey & Canary, 2002). Third, politeness and face threats influence subsequent messages. Bunz and Campbell (2004) found evidence of speech accommodation when politeness markers were present. Johnson, Roloff, and Riffee (2004b) concluded that threats to a requesters positive and negative face were related to greater persistence after refusal. Finally, the face threat of a message depends on the interaction context, including participants goals (Wilson et al.) and perceptions of the message (Erbert & Floyd). Given the research summarized above, a logical step is to examine the relationship between multiple face threats and the success of refusal messages. Such an investigation is important for theoretical and applied reasons. Goldsmith (1992) observed when studying social support messages that one must consider whether a support message actually helps the hearer. In making this assessment, Goldsmith suggested evaluating whether a) the message is appropriate for the situation, b) it is communicated competently, and c) it satisfies both parties face needs. Similarly, refusal messages can be helpful or harmful in terms of achieving compliance and attaining identity and relationship goals. The present study uses criteria similar to Goldsmiths to evaluate message success: communication competence and consideration of both parties face needs. Evaluating refusals by the same criteria as those used for other interpersonal messages can provide information about whether individuals evaluate different types of messages using similar criteria. To maximize the potential for positive outcomes from refusal messages, scholars must understand how requesters evaluate the refusals they encounter. Additionally, examining refusals from a politeness perspective is relatively new. Although research has established that more than one face threat is present after refusal (Johnson et al., 2004a) and identified the ways requesters respond after refusal (Johnson et al., 2004b), the role of context in determining how requesters respond to refusal remains to be fully delineated. Receiver perceptions of messages are one determinant of face threat (Erbert & Floyd, 2004), and understanding how requesters interpret refusals can shed light onto why requesters respond to refusals as they

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do. The following section discusses the evaluation criterion of communication competence and how it relates to refusals. Refusals and Competence In examining responses to refusals, researchers have paid limited attention to message outcomes, such as success in achieving influence goals or partner perceptions of refusal (Levine & Boster, 2001). This omission is unfortunate, because competent communication is a goal of interaction and is viewed as enacting messages that are effective in achieving interactants goals and do so in a socially acceptable manner (Canary & Spitzberg, 1987). Competent communication has been associated with positive perceptions in other interpersonal contexts (Goldsmith, 1992; Lakey & Canary, 2002). When considering the outcomes of refusal messages, it is important to assess both competence criteria: effectiveness and appropriateness. Each is used to evaluate competent communication (Canary & Spitzberg, 1987, 1989). Further, the concepts are related. Lakey and Canary (2002) explicitly defined effective communication as helping an actor achieve his=her own goals while considering an interaction partners goals; consideration of a partners goals is often requisite for constructing appropriate messages. The interplay between appropriateness and effectiveness has implications for relational development and maintenance, which are important when requesting and refusing. Refusers face demands to create socially acceptable messages to avoid hurting the requesters feelings (Kitao, 1998) while effectively resisting compliance. The purpose of this investigation is to examine how requesters perceive the competence of conversational refusals associated with differing face threats. The next section proposes hypotheses about the relationship between face threats and the components of competent communication: appropriateness and effectiveness. Perceived Effectiveness Negative Face Threat Brown and Levinson (1987), Wilson et al. (1998), and others have argued that a request inherently threatens a request targets autonomy. Although not all refusals eliminate threat to the refusers autonomy, the refuser has an opportunity to assert autonomy through the act of refusing and thereby address the threat. Because threat to a refusers negative face can be addressed by refusal, the greater concern for perceptions of refusal competence should be threat to a requesters negative face. Kunkel, Wilson, Olufowote, and Robson (2003) found that relational intensification requests threatened both parties negative face needs. For requesters, requests to intensify can limit relational options (assuming compliance) or jeopardize the current relationship (assuming refusal). When a requester elects to ask for assistance, threat to the requesters autonomy is also a potential result of refusal. This is because refusal places additional constraints on the requesters ability to achieve goals.

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For example, a requester encountering resistance to a pet-sitting request may have to seek alternative care for the animal (possibly at higher cost) or change travel plans. Johnson et al. (2004b) found that requesters negative face threat was positively associated with persistence after refusal. This finding is consistent with conclusions that individuals demonstrate tendencies to persist after refusal (Ifert & Roloff, 1996; Kunkel, et al.) and suggests requesters attempt to avoid other, potentially less desirable, options for achieving compliance goals. When threat to a requesters negative face increases, requesters express a desire to persist in seeking compliance. Given that conversational effectiveness is defined as enacting messages that achieve interactants goals (Canary & Spitzberg, 1987), a requesters decision to persist demonstrates that goals remain unmet. For the requester, the instrumental goal of attaining compliance was not achieved, and other goals may be jeopardized as well. For the refuser, the refusal message was ineffective in stopping the compliance attempt. Thus, the act of persisting associated with increased threat to a requesters negative face suggests that the refusal failed to achieve desired goals.
H1: Threat to a requesters negative face after refusal will be negatively associated with perceived refusal effectiveness.

Positive Face Threat Whereas negative face threats are inherent to the speech acts of requesting (Wilson et al., 1998) and refusing (Johnson et al., 2004a), positive face threats are not necessarily present. The act of requesting presumes a target capable of fulfilling the request. A refuser who questions that presumption by asserting incompetence (and threatening his or her own positive face) places the requester in a quandary. Persistence in seeking compliance is problematic, for the requester may be unable to challenge the refusers assertion of incompetence. A requester who needs a document translated from Spanish into English, for example, is likely to lack the evaluative skill to say, Sure, you know enough Spanish to a refuser who claims insufficient Spanish skills. Consistent with this reasoning, Ifert and Roloff (1994) speculated that inability obstacles, wherein a refuser claims lack of competence, may be effective because they are difficult for requesters to overcome. These researchers later found that persistence was less strongly related to inability than other obstacles, providing empirical support that requesters are less likely to challenge inability obstacles and rendering inability obstacles more effective at thwarting the request (Ifert & Roloff, 1996).
H2: Threat to a refusers positive face after refusal will be positively associated with perceived refusal effectiveness.

A different pattern emerges when a requesters positive face is threatened. Research has found positive relationships between requesters positive face threat and persistence after refusal (Johnson et al., 2004b). These findings are consistent with Brown and Levinson (1987), who suggested providing additional reasons as a way to manage positive face threats. Because refusals threatening the requesters positive face lead

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to the same responses as additional influence attempts, they should be less effective in preempting further compliance attempts.
H3: Threat to a requesters positive face after refusal will be negatively associated with perceived refusal effectiveness.

Perceived Appropriateness Whereas the relationship between face threat and perceived effectiveness is straightforward, the relationship between face threat and perceived appropriateness should be more complex, with multiple face threats contributing to perceived appropriateness. There are several reasons this is the case. First, effectiveness is a relatively concrete judgment of the degree to which a refusal inhibits or encourages continued pursuit of interaction goals. Appropriateness, by contrast, requires evaluating a broader social context. Hullman (2004) suggested that appropriateness judgments, more so than effectiveness judgments, require consideration of both parties perceptions of the interaction. Additionally, messages perceived as most effective are not always perceived as the most appropriate (Hullman), so it is reasonable that judgments of effectiveness and appropriateness are made differently.

Negative Face Threat By refusing, refusers can threaten their own autonomy. The refusers instrumental goal of resisting may be compromised if the requester persists and the refuser may thus be compelled to provide further explanation or listen to unwanted persuasion attempts. Because intimates are expected to comply with requests (Rule, Bisanz, & Kohn, 1985), refusal may result in relational or identity damage that constrains future interactions with the requester. Refusers who frame refusal in such a way to limit these threats protect their own face needs, which is part of appropriate interaction. Refusals can also create negative face threat for requesters. Some degree of negative face threat to the requester is inherent to refusal because refusing inhibits the requesters ability to achieve instrumental goals. However, refusals may also provide additional constraints to instrumental goals or to other objectives such as identity goals. For example, stating no, I cant help you now threatens a requesters autonomy but a refusal of it was wrong for you to ask me that. Dont ever ask me to do that again arguably creates a different set of constraints for the requester. In cases where the refuser frames the refusal to lessen threat to his or her own autonomy, refusals (such as the second one in the example above) that result in an increased threat to the requesters autonomy should be especially inappropriate. This is because a refuser who protects his or her own autonomy while unnecessarily threatening the autonomy of an interaction partner violates Lakey and Canarys (2002) presumption that appropriate communication involves attending to a partners goals as well as ones own.

Western Journal of Communication


H4: Threat to a requesters negative face will be perceived as inappropriate but this relationship will be of greater magnitude when threat to a refusers negative face is low than when threat to a refusers negative face is high.

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Positive Face Threat Given that interactants wish to minimize threats to their own and others face (Brown & Levinson, 1987), increasing positive face threats should be generally inappropriate, because such threats are unnecessary to perform the speech act of refusal. This conclusion is supported by Lakey and Canarys (2002) findings of a positive relationship between sensitivity to a partners goals and perceived conflict strategy appropriateness. Refusals showing insensitivity to a partners goals by threatening positive face should be seen as inappropriate. There are, however, circumstances in which positive face threats would be less appropriate than others. The threat to a refusers negative face created by refusal should determine the appropriateness of threats to a refusers positive face. Ifert and Roloff (1994) suggested that some reasons for refusal are conventionalized, particularly those that state a refusers inability to perform a requested behavior. Folkes (1982) found that refusals of date requests most often contained references to unstable, impersonal reasons even when stable, personal characteristics of the requester were the actual reason for refusal, supporting the idea that some types of refusals may be conventionally expected. Examples of conventionalized refusal forms might include statements such as I already have other plans for Saturday night to refuse a date request or I dont have $200 to spare right now in response to a request to borrow money. In part because they are conventionalized, such messages create little threat to a refusers autonomy. The refuser is free to respond affirmatively or negatively to alternative requests (e.g., How about going out on Thursday instead?), and potential harm to relational or identity goals is limited. In such a case, threatening ones own positive face is unnecessary and should be especially inappropriate. When refusal creates greater threat to a refusers autonomy, however, threatening the refusers positive face may actually be a strategy to mitigate the refusers negative face threat. By claiming incompetence, the refuser may forestall persistence or lessen relational damage. In essence, the presence of the high threat to the refusers negative face means refusers have less to lose by increasing threats to their own positive face.
H5: Threat to a refusers positive face will be perceived as inappropriate but this relationship will be of greater magnitude when threat to a refusers negative face is low than when threat to a refusers negative face is high.

In making a request, a requester acknowledges inability to perform the requested task and threatens his or her own positive face. Sensitivity to a partners interaction goals, however, demands that a refuser not call undue attention to the requesters deficiencies. A refuser who increases threat to the requesters positive face by a refusal message shows insensitivity to his or her partners face needs and is likely to be evaluated as inappropriate (Lakey & Canary, 2002).

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Threatening the requesters positive face is likely to be less offensive in cases where a refusers positive face is also threatened. For example, when observing anothers embarrassment, it is appropriate to ignore the embarrassing act and minimize positive face threat. An alternative response, however, allows one to acknowledge the embarrassing event by sharing similar events from ones own experience. By acknowledging shortcomings of both partners, one partners face needs are not threatened unilaterally and the positive face of both interactants is protected to a degree.
H6: Threat to a requesters positive face will be perceived as inappropriate but this relationship will be of greater magnitude when threat to the refusers positive face is low than when threat to the refusers positive face is high.

The section that follows describes a method used to test the hypotheses above. Method Data were collected under the auspices of the Time-Shared Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS) project in conjunction with the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University. TESS is designed to provide scholars with access to a national sample for quasiexperimental or experimental projects. The author presented a proposal that included the design for the study and items to be used in interview protocols, and the proposal was reviewed and accepted. Sample Participants were 531 adults (243 males, 288 females) from across the United States contacted by the Center for Survey Research by telephone and who voluntarily agreed to participate in the telephone survey. The Center for Survey Research sampled using the Genesys RDD sampling system, allowing almost all household telephone numbers in the United States to be included in the sampling frame. For households with more than one adult, random numbers determined which adult would be interviewed. Age of participants ranged from 18 to 90, with an average age of 49.19 years (SD 17.01). Three hundred sixty-one respondents attended some college or vocational training beyond high school, including 147 who earned bachelors degrees and 67 who earned graduate degrees. White respondents comprised 74.6% of the sample, African American respondents 9.6%, Latino=a respondents 8.1%, Asian respondents 1.5%, and Native American respondents 1.9%. The remaining 4.3% of respondents did not indicate their ethnic background. Procedures Questions approved by TESS for the present investigation were included as one module within a series of modules for unrelated studies that respondents completed via telephone. Paid interviewers received approximately 16 hours of initial training, including computer training, mock interviews, and one-on-one training with senior

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staff. Specific training for the TESS project ranged from 4 to 12 hours, depending on the number of modules the interviewer would be completing. For this investigation, participants were asked to imagine themselves in a request interaction and focus on one of two targets: a friend or family member. Two hundred sixty-four persons focused on friends and 267 focused on family members as request targets. The interviewer then briefly described one of three request scenarios (borrow $200, pet-sit for a weekend, provide a job reference). These descriptions were limited to a single sentence format (i.e., Imagine you ask your friend or family member to provide a job reference) to maintain consistency in scenario length and to meet the limitations of the telephone survey methodology. The job-reference scenario was presented to 175 respondents, the pet-sitting to 158, and the borrowing money to 198. Next, a hypothetical, single-sentence refusal statement was given that the friend or family member might use in refusing the request. Four refusal statements were used; single-sentence messages were used because of the need for simplicity for the telephone survey methodology and for consistency across refusal messages. The refusal I just dont feel like helping you was encountered by 152 respondents, You can get help from someone else was given to 124 respondents, Ill help another time to 131 respondents and I have my own things to do right now to 124 respondents. Multiple request targets, scenarios, and refusal statements were used to ascertain the generalizability of results. Following the refusal statement, respondents were asked to evaluate the refusal in terms of the face threats presented and the appropriateness and effectiveness of the message. Ten questions evaluated face threat and three questions each evaluated refusal appropriateness and effectiveness. Demographic information was collected from respondents as part of the Center for Survey Researchs overall project and was provided to the author. Questions and design were approved in advance by the Research Review Board at the authors institution and were also vetted by TESS reviewers. Measures Face threat Four face threat measures were developed for this study. After hearing a hypothetical refusal statement, respondents were asked a series of questions about their perceptions of the refusal. Because the questions referred to a single refusal statement, items began with the pronoun it, referring to the refusal statement, to lessen wordiness. Interviewers instructed respondents that they could request repetition of the refusal statement at any time. Participants were first asked if they agreed or disagreed with a question and were then asked the extent of their feeling (somewhat or strongly). Responses to these two items were recoded into a single item with higher scores reflecting greater agreement (1 strongly disagree, 2 somewhat disagree, 3 somewhat agree, 4 strongly agree) for data analyses. Threat to the refusers positive face was measured by three questions (It would make my friend or family member look bad; It would make my friend or family member look incompetent;

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It would make my friend or family member look dumb) and Cronbachs a for the scale was .70. The overall mean threat to refusers positive face was 1.79 (SD .75). Threat to refusers negative face was measured by two items (It would limit my friend or family members freedom; It would hurt my friend or family members ability to do what they want) and a .77. Mean threat to the refusers negative face was 1.64 (SD .85). Threat to the requesters positive face was measured by three items (It would make me look incompetent; It would make me look dumb; It would make me look bad) with a .82 and threat to a requesters negative face was measured with two items (It would limit what I can do; It would make me less able to do what I want), a .78. Mean threat to requesters positive face was 1.51 (SD .76) and to requesters negative face was 2.06 (SD .99). Effectiveness Requesters perception of refusal effectiveness was measured by three questions (I would persist in seeking compliance with my request; This refusal would get me to stop making my request; This refusal would be successful in getting me to stop making my request). Items were coded the same way as the face threat measures. The first item was reverse coded so a higher score was associated with greater effectiveness. Mean perceived effectiveness was 3.15 (SD .86) and Cronbachs a was .72. Appropriateness Perceived refusal appropriateness was measured by three questions (It would be an appropriate refusal; It would be a socially acceptable refusal; It would be a polite refusal) coded as above. Mean perceived appropriateness was 2.70 (SD .95). Cronbachs a was .79. Results Manipulation Checks Before hypothesis testing, manipulation checks were completed to ascertain differences in the four types of face threat attributable to the relationship between the requester and target or the request scenario encountered. Independent t-tests evaluated differences based on relationship type (friend or family member) for the four types of face threat. No significant differences were found so the relationship types were collapsed for analysis. Similarly, measures of each of the four face threats (requesters positive, requesters negative, refusers positive, refusers negative) were analyzed for differences by scenario. Four separate ANOVAs (one for each face threat) were performed with followup Scheffe tests. Some differences were found in face threat based on the scenario encountered. Specifically, threat to a refusers positive face was significantly different across all three scenarios (F(2, 523) 16.45, p < .001). Threat to a requesters positive (F(2, 527) 6.49, p < .01) and negative face (F(2, 526) 14.73, p < .001) were

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different for the job-reference scenario as compared to the other two scenarios. Threat to a refusers negative face did not differ by scenario. Given the scenario differences above, one solution would have been to analyze each scenario separately. However, this solution created a statistical power problem. With the original sample of 531, power to detect an effect size of r .20 was .99 (Cohen & Cohen, 1983). Dropping the sample size to the individual scenarios reduced power to detect similar effects (r .20) to .72 for the smallest sample (pet-sitting) and .79 for the largest (borrow money) (Cohen & Cohen). Therefore, the decision was made to analyze scenarios together whenever there were no scenario differences in face threat. This solution allowed analysis of the combined borrowmoney and pet-sitting scenarios (n 356) for some hypothesis tests and raised the power to detect effects of r .20 to .97 (Cohen & Cohen). Because there were no differences between the pet-sitting and borrow-money scenarios for threat to a requesters positive, requesters negative or refusers negative face, these two scenarios were collapsed for tests of H1, H3, and H4. Tests of H2, H5, and H6, which involved threat to the refusers positive face (where there were differences among all three scenarios), analyzed each scenario separately. Data Analysis Hypothesis 1 Simple regression was used to analyze H1, which predicted a negative relationship between requesters negative face threat and perceived effectiveness of the refusal. For the job-reference scenario, the relationship was not significant (b .058, SE b .081, b .055, t(171) .723, p > .05, R2 < .01). For the combined petsitting and borrow-money scenarios, threat to a requesters negative face was negatively related to perceived refusal effectiveness (b .108, SE b .044, b .131, t(351) 2.48, p < .01, R2 .02). Thus, there is partial support for H1. Hypotheses 2 and 3 H2 and H3 were tested using simple regression. H2 predicted a positive relationship between threat to a refusers positive face and perceived refusal effectiveness and H3 predicted a negative relationship between threat to a requesters positive face and perceived refusal effectiveness. Because H2 involved the threat to a refusers positive face variable, the three scenarios were analyzed separately. For the job-reference scenario, the relationship between refusers positive face threat and perceived effectiveness was positive (b .141, SE b .084, b .127, t(172) 1.68, p < .05, R2 .02). In the pet-sitting scenario, a similar pattern was found (b .305, SE b .101, b .237, t(153) 3.01, p < .01, R2 .06). However, no relationship was found in the borrow-money situation (b .068, SE b .077, b .064, t(192) .887, p > .05, R2 < .01). H2 is supported in the jobreference and pet-sitting scenarios. For H3, no relationship was found between requesters positive face threat and perceived effectiveness in the job-reference scenario (b .033, SE b .078,

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b .032, t(173) .421, p > .05, R2 < .01). Likewise, no relationship was found in the combined pet-sitting and borrow-money scenarios (b .001, SE b .066, b .001, t(350) .019, p > .05, R2 < .001). There is no support for H3.

Hypothesis 4 For H4, hierarchical regression evaluated the prediction that threat to a requesters negative face would be perceived as inappropriate but the relationship would be of greater magnitude at low levels of threat to the refusers negative face. Threat to requesters and refusers negative face were entered individually in the first step of the regression. The interaction term multiplying the two was entered in the second step. Perceived refusal appropriateness was the dependent variable. A correlation table of variables appears as Table 1, and complete regression results appear in Table 2. For the job-reference scenario, the predicted interaction term was not significant. For the combined pet-sitting and borrow-money scenarios, the interaction term was significant (t(349) 2.40, p < .01, R2D .02). Because of the significant interaction term, the relationship between threat to a requesters negative face and perceived refusal appropriateness was probed at high, moderate, and low levels of refusers negative face threat using procedures described by Aiken and West (1991). Low threat to refusers negative face was identified as one standard deviation below the mean; moderate was at the mean; and high was one standard deviation above the mean. Regression equations for these analyses are in Table 2. When threat to the refusers negative face was low, requesters negative face threat was negatively related to perceived appropriateness. No relationship was found between threat to requesters negative face and appropriateness at moderate and high levels of threat to the refusers negative face. Thus, H4 was supported in the combined pet-sitting and borrow-money scenarios but not in the job-reference scenario.

Hypotheses 5 and 6 H5 predicted that threat to a refusers positive face would be negatively related to perceived appropriateness but the relationship would be of greater magnitude when low levels of threat to a refusers negative face were present. H6 predicted that requesters
Table 1
Face threat 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Requesters positive Refusers positive Requesters negative Refusers negative Effectiveness Appropriateness

Correlations among Types of Face Threat


1 2 .53 3 .30 .26 4 .46 .45 .41 5 .08 .26 .01 .02 6 .01 .08 .10 .06 .01

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Table 2 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Perceived Appropriateness of Refusal Messages
Job reference b SE b b Pet-sitting=Borrow money b SE b b

Step 1 Refuser negative face threat .094 .101 .091 .040 .064 Requester negative face threat .046 .104 .043 .091 .053 Step 2 Requester negative x .081 .083 .307 .149 .062 Refuser negative face threat Regression of appropriateness by degree of refuser negative face threat on requester negative face threat Pet-sitting=Borrow money Low threat to refusers negative face Y (.198) x 3.23 Moderate threat to refusers negative face Y (.104)x 2.53 High threat to refusers negative face Y (.123)x 2.45

.035 .098 .509

Note: For the job-reference condition, R2 < .01 for Step 1; DR2 .01 for Step 2. For the pet-sitting and borrowing combined conditions, R2 .01 for Step 1; DR2 .02 for Step 2. Low threat to refusers negative face was one standard deviation below the mean, moderate was the mean, and high was one standard deviation above the mean. p < .01.

positive face threat would be negatively related to perceptions of appropriateness but the relationship would be of greater magnitude when low levels of refusers positive face threat were present. Separate hierarchical regressions were used to test each hypothesis. For H5, refusers positive and negative face threat were entered in the first step of the equation; the interaction of these variables was entered into the second step. For H6, requesters positive face threat and refusers positive face threat were entered into the first step of the equation and the interaction of the two was entered in the second step. For both equations, perceived refusal appropriateness was the dependent variable. For H5, the interaction of threat to a refusers positive and negative face was significant in the job-reference situation (t(166) 1.83, p < .05, R2D .02). Complete regression results are in Table 3. Because the interaction term was significant, the relationship between threat to a refusers positive face and perceived appropriateness was examined at low, moderate, and high levels of threat to the refusers negative face. The same definitions of low, moderate, and high were used as for H4. At low levels of refusers negative face threat, refusers positive face threat and perceived appropriateness were negatively related. At moderate and high levels of refusers negative face threat, refusers positive face threat and appropriateness were unrelated.

Table 3
Job reference b SE b b b SE b b b Pet-sitting

Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Perceived Appropriateness of Refusal Messages
Borrow money SE b b

.189 .169 .105 .095 .092 .291 .099 .622 .771 .109 .092

.167 .164

.402 .178

.300 .156

.566 .156 .160

.105 .085 .083

.410 .139 .453

Step 1 Refuser positive face threat Refuser negative face threat Step 2 Refuser positive x refuser negative face threat

.167

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Low Moderate High

Regression of appropriateness by degree of refuser negative face threat on refuser positive face threat Job reference Pet-sitting Borrow money Y (.657) x 3.77 Y (.856) x 4.09 Y (.335) x 3.08 Y (.187)x 2.06 Y (.231)x 3.17 Y (.379) x 3.41 Y (.044)x 2.69 Y (.019)x 2.75 Y (.377) x 3.61

Note: For the job-reference condition, R2 .02 for Step 1; DR2 .02 for Step 2. For the pet-sitting condition, R2 .09 for Step 1; DR2 .05 for Step 2. For the borrowing money condition, R2 .14 for Step 1; DR2 .02 for Step 2. Low is one standard deviation below the mean threat to refusers negative face, moderate is at the mean and high is one standard deviation above the mean.

p < .01. p < .05.

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For the pet-sitting scenario, the interaction term was also significant (t(153) 2.95, p < .01, R2D .05). At low levels of threat to the refusers negative face, threat to a refusers positive face and perceived appropriateness were negatively related, but at moderate and high levels of threat to a refusers negative face, there was no relationship. The interaction term was likewise significant in the borrow-money situation (t(189)1.93, p < .05, R2D .02). The relationship between threat to the refusers positive face and appropriateness was negative at low, moderate, and high levels of refusers negative face threat. H5 was supported in all three experimental scenarios. For H6, interaction of threat to requesters and refusers positive face was significant in the job-reference situation (t(169) 2.74, p < .01, R2D .04). There was no relationship between requesters positive face threat and appropriateness at moderate or high levels of threat to a refusers positive face but a negative relationship was found at low levels. Complete regression results are in Table 4. In the pet-sitting scenario, the interaction term was not significant (t(153) .332, p > .05, R2D < .01). The interaction term was significant in the borrow-money scenario (t(189) 2.60, p < .01, R2D .03). In the borrow-money scenario, requesters positive face threat was negatively related to perceived appropriateness at low levels of refusers positive face threat but the two were unrelated at moderate and high levels. There is support for H6 in the job-reference and borrow-money but not the pet-sitting scenarios.

Discussion The purpose of this investigation was to determine the relationship between multiple face threats and perceptions of refusal competence. Perceived refusal effectiveness was negatively associated with threat to a requesters negative face (H1) in the combined pet-sitting and borrow-money conditions. Autonomy threats did not appear to dissuade the requester from the influence attempt. This result is consistent with past findings that persistence and further attempts at persuasion are common responses after refusal (Ifert & Roloff, 1996; Johnson et al., 2004b). Support was not found for a relationship between requesters positive face threat and perceived refusal effectiveness (H3). One explanation is that although requesters positive face threat may be intensified by the refusal message, the threat itself is present in any request interaction. Increasing the threat to a requesters positive face may result in an elevated desire to persist or engage in further explanation (Johnson et al., 2004b), but it is not a new threat and may not contribute to general perceptions of effectiveness. Refusers positive face threat was positively associated with perceptions of refusal effectiveness (H2) in the pet-sitting and job-reference, but not the borrow-money scenarios. The nonsignificant finding in the borrowing scenario may reflect differences between requesting favors and borrowing an item. Past research has found differences between the two types of requests (Roloff & Janiszewski, 1989), and the

Table 4
Job reference b SE b b b SE b b b Pet-sitting

Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Perceived Appropriateness of Refusal Messages
Borrow money SE b b

.147 .059 .102 .096 .091 .044 .031 .916 .121 .125 .134 .249

.131 .056

.431 .185

.321 .128

.515 .077 .238

.106 .106 .092

.373 .056 .619

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Step 1 Refuser positive face threat Requester positive face threat Step 2 Refuser positive x requester positive face threat

Low threat Moderate threat High threat

Regression of appropriateness by degree of refuser positive face threat on requester positive face threat Job reference Borrow money Y (.917) x 3.61 Y (.567) x 3.98 Y (.003)x 2.63 Y (.084)x 2.62 Y (.193)x 1.86 Y (.091)x 2.33

Note: For the job-reference condition, R2 .01 for Step 1; DR2 .04 for Step 2. For the pet-sitting condition, R2 .07 for Step 1; DR2 < .001 for Step 2. For the borrowing money condition, R2 .12 for Step 1; DR2 .03 for Step 2. Low threat is one standard deviation below the mean, moderate is at the mean and high is one standard deviation above the mean. p < .01. p < .05.

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distinction found here may reflect the difficulty of creating a credible threat to refuser competence in a borrowing situation. In borrowing, the only claim a refuser can really make regarding his or her own competence is I dont have it or I cant spare it now. By contrast, one refusing a favor request can claim any number of alternative plans or obligations that prevent compliance. It may be that a requester perceives a specific refusal (e.g., I have to go to my sons soccer game out of town) as more difficult to overcome than the more general refusal typical in a borrowing situation. In essence, it may be easier to persuade an intimate partner that he or she can spare the money for a short time than it is to persuade one not to engage in specific activities that preclude compliance. Such an explanation is consistent with Roloff and Janiszewski (1989), who concluded that refusals of borrowing requests resulted in more persuasion and less disengagement from intimates, while refusals of favor requests resulted in more disengagement messages. Results suggest that multiple face threats should be considered when examining perceived appropriateness. In testing H4, H5, and H6, if a low level of one face threat was present, respondents viewed a refusal that increased a second face threat as inappropriate. This finding makes sense given past research on a variety of interpersonal phenomena grounded in politeness theory. Speakers who are attempting to address both their own and a partners face needs (Cupach & Metts, 1994; Lakey & Canary, 2002) should avoid unnecessarily threatening either partys face. If initial levels of face threat are low, it makes even less sense to risk relational harm, identity damage, or instrumental goal achievement by increasing another face threat. Implications for Politeness Theory These results add to a growing body of support for a more complex conceptualization of face threat than that originally proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987), specifically the influence of multiple face threats within one message. Perceptions of effectiveness were related to threats to both refusers and requesters face, reinforcing the need to consider threats to both speaker and hearer face during interaction (Craig, Tracy, & Spisak, 1986). More significantly, multiple face threats are associated with perceived refusal appropriateness. Results of the appropriateness hypotheses substantiate the idea that communicators consider both their own and their partners face needs. In each case where a low level of one face threat was present, respondents viewed a refusal that increased a second face threat as inappropriate. Perceptions of appropriateness thus seem to rely on an assumption that increasing or adding a significant face threat where one does not exist is inappropriate, but escalating face threats in a situation where face threat is already high exerts less influence on judgments of appropriateness. Even when performing acts, such as refusal, that are inherently face threatening (Brown & Levinson, 1987), communicators seem to be reluctant to create any more face threat than necessary.

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Implications for Communication Competence The present results reaffirm previous research that effectiveness and appropriateness are distinct concepts (Canary & Spitzberg, 1987) and that effective messages are not always appropriate (Hullman, 2004). Based on the present results, one can conclude that refusal effectiveness is aided by a refuser threatening his or her own positive face. There are at least two problems with adopting this as a universal strategy, however. First, threatening ones own positive face is perceived as inappropriate in situations where refusers negative face threat is low, meaning that a refuser who uses this strategy to gain effectiveness foregoes the competence criterion of appropriateness. Second, particularly in long-term relationships, repeatedly threatening ones own positive face to effectively refuse may conflict with identity and interaction goals. Perceptions of appropriateness are clearly the result of analyzing the context of the interaction, as support was found for interactions between multiple face threats for all three hypotheses testing perceived refusal appropriateness (H4, H5, H6). The present study suggests the magnitude of an appropriateness violation depends on the magnitude of other face threats present. Interactants who wish to manage refusals competently, then, need to be mindful of the effects of differing face threats within the context of a specific interaction and may need to choose between effectiveness and appropriateness. In cases where threats to their negative face are relatively high, refusers creating threats to their own positive face are likely to be effective and relatively less inappropriate than if the negative face threat is low; ironically, competence may thus be easier to achieve when compliance creates a burden than when the request is mundaneat least if one wishes to refuse the request. These relationships may explain why, in everyday interaction, individuals find themselves complying with mundane requests even when they do not desire to comply; in these cases the costs of effective refusal are too great when balanced against perceptions of inappropriateness and, possibly, long-term relational objectives.

Strengths and Limitations One particular strength of this investigation is the sampling and methodology used. A diverse range of adults from across the country were sampled, lending support for the politeness model beyond traditionally sampled populations that are younger and often less ethnically diverse than the present sample. Additionally, the phone survey methodology used an alternative to the frequent paper and pencil methodology of past studies. One limitation of the phone survey methodology, however, is that relatively simple request scenarios and refusal messages were necessary to maintain reasonable length and standardization across participants. In actual interaction, requesters may provide additional information about the need for compliance (e.g., detailed explanation of why they need to borrow $200) and refusers may provide more complex refusals that include face-saving devices (e.g., Id love to help

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you out, but . . . ) or other message elements not present in this investigation. Future research should continue to examine the association between face threat and perceived refusal competence using refusals that include a variety of message elements. Future research should also continue to examine the concept of positive face threat. Some (e.g., Lim & Bowers, 1991) have suggested there may be several types of positive face. A refusal such as I dont feel like helping you may focus less on competence and more on fellowship face (Lim & Bowers). If so, the positive face threat measure here may capture only one facet of positive face threat. In this case, the results of the present investigation may have greater relevance to identity goals (presumably related to competence) than to relationship goals (presumably related to fellowship). As noted in the method section, low statistical power was an issue for the jobreference scenario across hypotheses and for the remaining two scenarios when they were analyzed individually (H2, H5, H6). Despite low power to detect effects, statistically significant effects were found for all three scenarios in testing H5 and for two of the three scenarios in testing H2 and H6. These significant findings suggest that the results are fairly robust and merit exploration in future studies. Future Research Additional research should examine interactions of multiple face threats across contexts to determine whether generalizations can be made about the influence of face threat on perceived effectiveness and appropriateness of messages. For example, it could be fruitful to examine whether the present results hold for relationships such as the doctor-patient or parent-child relationships mentioned in the introduction to this article, in which power or intimacy differ between interactants. Beyond specific relational contexts, additional types of interactions can be explored. Research has successfully generalized Wilson et al.s (1998) general politeness framework to refusals (Johnson et al., 2004a) and relational turning points (Kunkel et al., 2003). Similar work with regard to perceived effectiveness and appropriateness would allow researchers to determine how much of the influence of face threat is due to the specific interaction context and how much might be generalized across interaction types. Finally, researchers can investigate how face threat affects other outcomes of influence interactions. Effectiveness and appropriateness are important outcomes of influence interactions and merit continued study, but other outcomes such as achievement of secondary goals (Dillard et al., 1989) or long-term relationship development are also important to investigate. Examining the influence of multiple face threats in interaction should be pursued further in order to better understand refusals and other types of interactions. The present investigation provides evidence that a number of face threats are associated with perceptions of the competence of refusal messages.

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