GuidesEmployee experienceWhat is impression management?

What is impression management?

Last updated

8 October 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

Whether you know it or not, impression management plays a key role in business success, personal branding, and everyday life. After all, who doesn’t like being well-liked and successful?

Everyone has two distinct personas: a relaxed self when you don’t feel the need to impress anyone, and an “alert mode,” when you become deliberate about every word you say or move you make. The goal of the second persona is to appear pleasant and likable.

Being able to influence others about self, a situation, an idea, or a product can be a valuable asset in professional and social contexts. In sociology, this is known as impression management. It’s the conscious or subconscious process in which people try to influence how others perceive an object, event, or person by controlling and regulating information.

Brands are increasingly using impression management to influence consumers’ observations and opinions on their products to improve brand image and drive sales.

This article provides a detailed rundown of impression management and its importance, as well as effective impression management techniques to help you enhance your reputation and image.

What is impression management?

Impression management is the process of controlling or managing other people’s impressions in social interactions. It’s the conscious or unconscious effort made to influence or control other people’s opinions, decisions, and evaluations about you, your brand, or your products/services. Impression management is a powerful determinant of your brand’s success or failure.

The term was first coined by sociologist Erving Goffman in 1959. Goffman was a pioneer in the study of everyday human behavior and social interaction.

While the concepts and ideas in Goffman’s book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life were initially meant to deal with face-to-face interactions, they are still relevant today—especially in the domain of personal and corporate branding.

Effective impression management in your company translates to a better brand image, which attracts top talent and generates more revenue. This can lead to exponential growth.

Why is impression management important?

In a business environment, first impressions matter a lot. Once someone forms an opinion about you or your brand, it isn’t easy to reshape.

Perception precedes reality

Impressions count—so much so that your brain makes thousands of computations within seconds of meeting someone new. You’re assessing and judging them on their clothes, body language, and whether they seem trustworthy, confident, and approachable.

The same is true online. Within seconds of Googling your company, a potential customer will already determine whether they trust you.

Greater chance for success

Controlling people’s opinions is virtually impossible, but impression management allows you to present yourself in a way that’s most likely to evoke positive opinions from others. At the bare minimum, a positive initial impression can open the door to sharing more about you or your brand.

Truth counts

As important as impression management is, it’s not a green light to make false claims. If you lie to make a positive impression, the truth will eventually come out, and that will damage your brand image. As a rule of thumb, carefully consider whether your brand actually measures up to your claims before making any impressions.

What is the goal of impression management?

Impression management’s primary purpose is to establish or preserve someone’s social standing. It’s especially critical in business since companies rely on societal perception to convince customers to buy their products.

Impression management determines how well your next product launch will be received, whether or not you can secure investment funding for your business, or if you impress the recruiter at your next job interview.

How can impression management help you in the workplace?

Impression management is frequently used in the workplace across all levels of business, from entry level all the way to the top of the employee ladder. It’s often a multifaceted process that begins in a job advert and continues through the application, interviewing, and onboarding phases.

Impression management is used in the workplace by employees to achieve employment and advancement and by employers to attract and retain top talent.

Here are the main ways in which impression management can help you in the workplace:

Gaining employment

Impression management can help you secure a job during the application and interviewing process. Presenting the best impression of your personality, skills, and suitability for a role increases your chance of securing the job.

Gaining advancement

If you’re already working for a company, impression management tactics can help you get a much-desired promotion or new position that’s more lucrative than your current one. Promoting the appearance of success and confidence bolsters your chances of career advancement.

Attracting and retaining top talent

Portraying your organization in the best light helps you attract and retain the most qualified employees. Impression management enables your company to be seen as an excellent place to work.

What is an example of impression management?

From boardrooms to social gatherings, here are some typical examples of impression management in action:

The down-to-earth leader

Tom is the chief marketing officer of a successful company. During speeches, he downplays his achievements and chooses to share the credit with the marketing team despite his accomplishments. By emphasizing and appreciating the team’s contribution, Mark creates a positive impression of a humble and approachable leader who acknowledges his team’s efforts.

This approach enables him to better connect with his audience and encourages his team members to put their best foot forward.

The confident expert

Before meeting the promotional board, Joyce, the IT department head, takes time to go through her qualifications and unique set of skills. As she enters the boardroom, she greets the board members with a firm handshake and warm smile.

During the interview, she exudes confidence as she shares her past experiences and contributions to the company’s growth. She is prepared and composed, which impresses the board. 

Joyce’s ability to confidently articulate her skills, qualifications, and contributions creates the impression of competence. This is a strategic use of impression management that increases her chance of being promoted.

The supportive team player

In a team where disagreements are a common occurrence, Emily—an exceptional team player—dedicates herself to caring for and listening to her colleagues instead of adding to the chaos.

When her fellow employees share their concerns, she empathizes and offers logical solutions. Emily’s support and conflict-resolution efforts enhance harmony in the workplace.

She performs impression management by promoting understanding and collaboration. As such, she is perceived as a key team player who gracefully and maturely handles conflicts. She creates the impression that constructive problem-solving and empathy help build productive teams.

Going the extra mile

John wants to create the impression of being the most dedicated manager. He stays beyond normal working hours to help his juniors and comes to work on weekends to finish projects. He wants to set an example of dedication and commitment to motivate his team to bring their best efforts to the table.

This impression management technique is known as exemplification. John aims to inspire his colleagues to follow his example, which creates a positive impression about him and fosters a culture of excellence.

Advertising

Advertising is one of the most familiar examples of impression management. All promotional policies are geared toward capturing consumers’ attention and influencing them to perform a predetermined action.

Brands engage in impression management when they market products or services in the best light while covering up shortcomings such as a product’s side effects.

How you behave at home versus the office

Last but not least, how you portray yourself at home compared to when you’re in the outside world is an example of impression management. You probably don’t mind exposing your strengths and weaknesses when in the company of your loved ones at home.

However, in social or professional settings, you’ll be at your best, displaying a great character to win people’s admiration and paint a positive picture.

Mismanaging impressions

Mismanaging impressions refers to unintentionally giving others a negative perception of yourself or your brand. Watch out for the following practices that can portray you in bad light:

Too much self-promotion

It’s good to showcase your strengths, but be careful not to exaggerate or brag about yourself.

Pretending to be something/someone you’re not

Impression management isn’t about pretending to be who or what you’re not. Stay true to your personality, values, and beliefs.

Ignoring the perspectives of others

Take note of the impressions that people are trying to create. Impression management is always a two-way street. Be sensitive to the opinions, feelings, and needs of others, whether they are employees or clients.

Being manipulative

Never manipulate, deceive, or mislead others while performing impression management.

Impression management techniques and strategies

In his book, How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie discusses the following strategies for building positive impressions of yourself or your brand:

1. Show genuine interest in others

Being genuinely interested in your colleagues or customers can earn you their trust and enable you to get closer to them. This allows you to influence how they perceive you.

Ask employees or customers questions that encourage them to share about themselves. This helps you discover their passions and interests and makes you seem likable.

2. Admit when you’re wrong

Failure to admit when you’re wrong can harm relationships and create resentment. Whenever possible, reach out to the person affected by your actions and apologize.

Being humble and prepared to admit to your own mistakes makes people more agreeable and less defensive, leading to stable personal and professional relationships.

3. Applause other people’s good work

Proudly and openly acknowledge others for their skills, abilities, and good work. For instance, consider praising a team member for their dedication or good ideas. This technique can inspire other team members to work better and harder, especially in a recognition-driven environment.

4. Help others

Help others whenever it’s in your power to do so. Helping others, whether in everyday life, at work, or in business, fosters stronger relationships and empowers you to influence how they see you.

Helping others out of pure intentions is an excellent impression management tool. However, people will become resentful if you only offer help with strings attached.

5. Show empathy

Empathy is putting on other people’s shoes. It’s the ability to recognize emotions in others and understand other people’s perspectives on a situation.

Showing empathy can help you resolve conflicts, build more productive teams, and improve relationships with clients, co-workers, and customers.

6. Avoid criticizing, condemning, or complaining

Dale Carnegie said fools have a knack for complaining, condemning, and criticizing others. However, character, self-control, and overlooking other people’s wrongdoings pay dividends in relationship-building.

7. Remember names

Remembering people’s names is a simple but effective impression management technique. It makes clients and colleagues feel special and respected.

Carnegie says, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Is impression management ethical?

Impression management has been a hot topic of debate. People have questioned whether it’s cynical manipulation or effective self-revelation. Proponents of impression management insist that adopting the transparency strategy reveals an authentic version of yourself.

So, is impression management ethical? It depends. Impression management techniques are honest and useful for enhancing relationships, improving reputation, boosting businesses, and much more.

On the other side of the coin, impression management techniques can be used to create false or overly-embellished impressions about a brand, product, or person. Impression management may be unethical if the performer uses abusive, deceptive, or underhanded tactics (such as psychological manipulation) to influence the audience’s behavior or perception.

Such tactics are exploitative and unethical. Worse still, they result in reputational damage and failure in the long run. However, authentic impression management techniques are ethical and highly successful.

FAQs

What’s another name for impression management?

Impression management is also referred to as “self-presentation.” It’s the total of actions you take in an attempt to influence how people perceive you, your product, or your brand.

What are the two components of impression management?

According to Leary and Kowalski, there are two processes that constitute impression management. These are:

Impression motivation

Impression motivation refers to the fundamental psychological elements that drive people to influence how others perceive them. It’s a function of three factors—the goal-relevance of the impressions you create, the value of desired outcomes, and the difference between the desired and current image of yourself.

Impression construction

Impression construction is the active process through which people try to influence how others see them. It consists of five factors: self-concept, role constraints, desired identity, target value, and social image.

Who uses impression management?

All people and businesses use impression management.

Businesses leverage impression management to create positive, lasting impressions across different customer touchpoints. This creates a solid brand image, fosters customer loyalty, increases market share, and drives revenue.

Individuals also perform impression management to be seen as strong and capable, kind and intelligent, and other relevant characteristics.

In essence, even when they don’t intend to, people use impression management to reinforce both positive and negative opinions of themselves.

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