How Impression Management Impacts Your Professional Reputation

CoachHub · 3 February 2023 · 5 min read

From our colleagues to our leaders to our social circles, we all want to make a positive impression on others. We want to be perceived as witty, funny, intelligent, commanding or attractive. So we adapt our behaviours, and even appearances, to impress others.

Impression management is important in the development of our social and work relationships and it’s an important quality in effective leaders. Let’s look at what impression management is, how it’s used and how to develop it.

What is impression management?

Originally conceptualised in 1959 by sociologist Erving Goffman as self-presentation, impression management refers to the behaviours and actions individuals use to influence observations, opinions and perceptions about an object, event or person – particularly themselves. We consciously – and unconsciously – regulate the information we provide during social and business interactions to present ourselves in a way we would like to be thought of by the individuals or groups we’re interacting with.

We tend to think of impression management in terms of first impressions. For example, presenting the very best version of yourself during a first date or job interview. Or we may think of impression management in terms of how we look. However, impression management goes much deeper than that.

Examples of impression management

You’re engaging in impression management when you:

  • Exaggerate the positive aspects or achievements of your personal or work life
  • Regulate information about the company that is released to employees
  • Throw on a suit jacket prior to client meetings
  • Relay a made-up excuse for your tardiness
  • Deep clean and redecorate your home before visitors arrive
  • Correct a typo on a text message or social post or comment
  • Retouch or filter a photo to make yourself look more attractive
  • Practise facial expressions, postures, etc. to use in social and business situations

While these behaviours may seem duplicitous or manipulative, Goffman indicated that we all work to create a desired impression about ourselves in the same way that actors develop their characters. In fact, Goffman’s dramaturgical theory proposes that each of us is a collection of the different roles we play.

We tend to do it in every aspect of our lives, even when we’re not intentionally trying to do so. And even in situations when we feel like we can be ourselves. For example, you may present a version of yourself to a close sibling that is completely different from the version you present to a grandparent.

impression management

Why do we use impression management?

There are social and psychosocial reasons that we present different versions of ourselves, including:

To smooth social interactions. We may curb or conform our manners and behaviours to meet rule-governed behaviours, social norms or social expectations. We self-monitor to avoid offending others and to navigate unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations.

Self-preservation. In his book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman explains that self-presentation impacts how one is treated by others. How we are perceived also defines an individual’s role in the social order. As such, managing how one is perceived is a means of self-preservation.

Self-promotion. Self-presentation is a tactic used to assert the perception that one possesses the characteristics or attributes required for a desired position or status. It is a method of personal branding that may be used to win a political position, job promotion, personal relationship and even a positive job appraisal or social status.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of impression management?

Impression management can help you to build a positive reputation, your personal brand and even your self-confidence. In addition, it can make you a better leader or help you to land that promotion you’ve been wanting. However, because impression management is dependent on other people’s backgrounds, experiences and standards, it is full of uncertainty. What is considered acceptable in one social circle may be taboo in another. For this reason, there are risks associated with impression management. These include:

Self-consciousness. The number one risk of impression management is becoming overly concerned over how others perceive you . It can increase self-consciousness. So much so that it could be damaging to your mental and physical health.

Imposter syndrome. Faking it ‘til you make it can lend credence to certain behaviours or actions that don’t come naturally to you. However, it can manifest in imposter syndrome, particularly when there’s an expectation of skills, expertise or values you don’t possess.

Inconsistency, inauthenticity or manipulation. Compliments may be perceived as flattery. Exaggerating your achievements may be perceived as boasting or even deceptive. If others notice behaviours or skill levels that vary greatly from one situation to another, you risk appearing as a social chameleon. This can damage your reputation in more than one social circle.

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Strategies of impression management

If you’re seeking to improve the perception others have of you, you’ll need to develop the following characteristics or attributes:

Self-awareness. In order to master self-presentation, one needs to first be aware of the impact we have on others. To maintain authenticity, it’s essential to have a defined sense of self – values, priorities, goals, etc. – to avoid becoming someone who just goes along with the crowd.

Self-control. In addition to self-awareness, you need to practise emotional intelligence and self-control. You’ll want to monitor what you say as well as what you communicate with your body language and your actions.

Etiquette rules and social norms. There is a wide range of social rules and acceptable behaviours for various social situations. Before you attempt to practise self-presentation to match a social or business situation, first learn what those are.

Perception. You must learn to read social cues – read the room, so to speak – and get to know the individuals and groups you interact with in order to understand what behaviours trespass on social norms, etiquette rules and even personal boundaries.

Professional coaching can help you with impression management

If you don’t have the above attributes or you need help managing how others perceive you, you can still engage in impression management. Coaching can help. Professional coaching can help you develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence. A coach can teach you how to manage your persona, thrive in social situations and understand the behaviours of others.

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