What is Impression Management: Control and Cultivate Your Image
You’re scrolling through your feed and you notice carefully curated images of the person: your friend, an influencer you admire, a random person who caught your eye…thanks Instagram algorithm. Maybe you say “Wow, so-and-so has an amazing life! They look so happy and are photographed doing such cool things.”
Let’s not forget that those beautiful snap shots we see are people’s highlight reels. You’re not going to see the panic attack they suffered from earlier that day, or that they got dumped on their birthday, or that they got fired from their dream job for no reason.
People don’t post that kind of stuff (the lows of their reality) because that’s not the impression that they want you to see. They want to impress you. They want to give you the impression that their adulting is on fleek, they are in charge of their finances, they’re having the time of their life, they are happy and are not plagued by the crippling anxiety some of their friends have.
In face-to-face communication people also tend to project an image of themselves where they have it all together, even if they don’t. But at least with a real person in front of you, if you want to break down in tears and vent just a little bit, you can do that. You don’t have to hide behind a happy face you’re posting on social media. You don’t have to worry about it being public and on permanent record.
Whether face to face or online, this lesson is about impression management. I’m going to walk you through some steps for cultivating the impression you want to project to your various social groups. And we’re going to talk about how to do that authentically.
So let’s talk about impression management.
To some extent, we care what people think. Right? And that’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as we’re not obsessing over it.
We are social creatures and so of course it matters how other people see us, because that dictates how they interact with us, and thus it meaningfully informs how we experience the world.
The key here then is to establish a way to be in control of how we project ourselves in a way that we are comfortable with and feel confident about. In a way that feels deeply authentic.
In turn, it is just as important to not be influenced by the fear of rejection or embarrassment. Expressing your authenticity takes precedence.
Managing this balance is, in a nutshell, impression management.
Sociologist Erving Goffman coined the term impression management and talks about it in depth in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
When we’re presenting our self to others, we’re motivated by two things:
- to project our own self-image as in how we see ourselves, and
- to live up to the audience’s expectations and preferences.
Self-presentation defines our roles in the social interaction taking place. It establishes the tone and it can facilitate the outcome of the social interaction.
So as you can see, our audience’s perception of us is an important factor in dictating how we act and speak. This often leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy where someone thinks of you as X type of person and since you know they think of you that way, you’ll thusly confirm their expectations of you by acting like X, even though it defies your authenticity.
This is common in classrooms, where a teacher might treat a student as bad at math, and the student knows the teacher thinks that, so the student starts to think he is in fact bad at math, even if he used to enjoy it, and so now he’s flunking the math test because of impression mismanagement.
Or when a boss thinks you’re not equipped to lead the team, and so you start to feel that way, and as a result the team falls apart.
Now these are extreme cases, but the point is that impression management can have a real impact on how you perform. But more important, it shows that you have control over the impression you give.
Regardless of people’s perceptions and expectations of you, YOU decide how to act, how to speak. The only person who controls your image is YOU.
So if you walk away from this lesson remembering one thing, let it be this:
You control your own image. And you are responsible for your image.
With that, let’s jump into my strategies for impression management and managing your image. We’re going to look at three different contexts for projecting your authentic self.
- social media space
- personal relationships
- professional relationships
Think about how an inauthentic post can be damaging to your mental health. If you’re posting something that does not reflect who you are, then you are essentially lying to your audience. If you can’t be honest with your audience, you’ll struggle to be honest with yourself. And this creates a vicious cycle of insecurity, and ultimately, unhappiness.
Look, I’m not saying self-censor, but I am saying be mindful of what you post because you owe it to yourself and also to your audience to project a real version of you.
This is easily avoided by being thoughtful with what you post. Here are a few things to consider:
- Is this me? Is this honoring who I am?
- What are my motivations for posting? Am I posting seeking validation from others? Am I posting this to give someone FOMO?
- If my grandma saw this, would she be proud?
- Is there anything here that could be considered offensive to the people that matter to me?
Use these questions as a filter for your social media posts and you’ll find the quality of your content will improve dramatically, as will peoples’ impressions of you.
This could be a partner, a friend, a child, or a relative.
As crazy as it seems, we often behave the worst toward the people we’re closest to, even though they matter the most to us. Think back to a time when you were abominable and treated that person like your punching bag. Of course you felt awful afterwards, but let’s not even let it get to that point.
With the people closest to you, you should go great lengths to project an image of yourself that you are proud of. You want to project a caring, kind, thoughtful, even goofy self. The goal here is less about impressing them. It’s more about showing them just how much they mean to you.
Think about the following questions:
- Am I making this about me or about them?
- Am I giving off positive vibes?
- Am I adding brightness to their day?
- If they forget what I say and do, will they remember how I make them feel?
- Am I listening to them actively to really hear what they have to say?
These questions can help you reflect on and improve the impression you are giving to the people that you care most about.
In professional relationships, the consequences of poor impression management are almost self-evident. This can be things like showing up to the office late, sending poorly written emails, being slow on deliverables, dressing sloppily, or speaking in an insensitive way.
If your boss, colleagues, and clients don’t have a good impression of you, that will seriously impede your ability to progress in your career and do the things you love to do.
With professional relationships you want to think about these questions:
- Am I projecting confidence?
- Am I taking responsibility?
- Am I demonstrating accountability?
- Am I keeping my emotions in check?
- What adjective comes to mind when they think of me?
Keep a close eye on how you are projecting yourself to the people you work with because, like it or not, they can be very influential on your future.
So that was a deep dive into impression management. With all of these contexts, it comes down to being self-aware and thoughtful about the imaging you’re putting out there. Keep things positive and constructive. And above all, keep things authentic.
Don’t be afraid to post on social media; just don’t let it get in the way of who you are deep down, and make sure that your posting for the right reasons. And in the personal context, be an energy booster, not an energy vampire. And in the professional context, act like the leader you want to be, because if you do that, you’ll become it.
Before you worry about what others think of you, worry about how YOU think of YOU. Project your authenticity so you can live your truth and enjoy the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with it.
Now that you know our strategies for impression management, I’d love to hear what you think. What strategies do you use to project your authentic self? What are some ways to avoid getting stuck projecting someone you aren’t?
Share whatever is on your mind with us in the comments below.
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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.
Thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you next time for your next Explearning lesson.