What Is Impression Management And How Can It Be Abused?
By Danni Peck
Updated December 20, 2018
Do you have a social media account such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or any other? Do you care how people respond to your profile, posts, tweets, images,etc.? The chances are that theseposts or responses, or your reaction to the responses will perfectly reflect your impression management behaviors.
Social media is a recent field of study in impression management, which derived its application first from face-to-face communication, but later extended it to computer-mediated communication.
Definition Of Impression Management In Social Psychology
The term 'impression management' was first conceptualized and coined by the Canadian-American social psychologist Erving Goffman, who is still considered a pioneer in the field of microsociology. Microsociology focuses on studying and analyzing everyday behavior and social interactions between people.
According to Goffman, the self is not a separate, fixed entity that resides in an individual. He saw the self as a social process and theorized that we are the outcomes of our social interactions. A major contribution of his to social psychology is a description of how sociologists understand stigma, and how it affects the lives of those who experience it. His book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, is still widely taught and considered his most important publication. In his book, Goffman theorized that self-presentation
- plays an important part in defining a person's role in the social order;
- sets the tone and direction of social interaction, and
- facilitates the performance of therule-governed behavior.
The definition of impression management can be said to have two facets, one which pertains to ourselves, and the other which pertains to entities other than the self. According to Lear and Kowalsky,1990, impression management is, in simple terms, self-presentation, and refers to the process by which we try to control the impressions others form of us. This is because the impressions we make on others have implications for how they see, evaluate and treat us.
The secondfacet of impression management comprises the other ways in which impressions are managed. This takes place when third parties manage the impressionSELs entities such as businesses, celebrities, countries,and cities make on us. It is, as the reader might have guessed, the purview of advertising, branding,and marketing.
Some researchers and theorists suggest that we also have and form impressions of ourselves, which we tend to manipulate too. Some dispute this notion, however, claiming it would be confusing to state that we engage in "self-presentation to the self."
Impression management is, as the phrase suggests, a form of manipulation, and while it serves a social function, it can be said to be based on presenting something as if it is true, irrespective of its real nature. Therein lies it's inherent danger.
Examples of Impression Management Behavior in Social Interaction
Following are some of the most common and typical behaviors we use to compel others to treat us in a certain way or to affect their behavior, through manipulating their impression of ourselves or another person.
- Boasting - this can be seen as a form of excessive self-promotion.
- Flattery - behavior utilized with the hope that another will like us better for it, in other words, we hope toimprove our standing in their eyes.
- Intimidation - this includes, most notably, aggression tactics that we use to get others to obey us.
- Gossiping or lying - we lie to avoid or influence/effect a specific outcome, and in the process manage another person's impression of us, a situation or somebody else.
- 'Dress to kill' - we dress according to our need to be seen in a specific way, i.e., respectable and authoritative, sexy and desirable, trendy and hip, or… the list goes on.
Dangers of This Behavior
Making Poor Choices
Poet and writer T.S. Eliot said in the poem, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock: "There will be time, there will be time, to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet." This is impression management in relationships, which most can identify with. Who does not put their best foot forward when, for instance, they meet a person they adore or have fallen in love with? Our culture dictates what we dress up beautifully or handsomely to impress him or her, and we tailor our behavior according to what we think the other person will find attractive. For a while.
After a time, though, this mask dissolves and the real person and their true habits and character emerge. If this happens only after marriage (and many see marriage as a relationship goal, i.e.,the desired outcome), it can make for nasty surprises and a very unhappy relationship.
This is an example of extremely common and widely-accepted impression management behavior that often has undesirable outcomes. An important decision (choosing or gaining a life partner) is based on what is essentially a misrepresentation of a person's character, and the relationship is therefore based on a false premise from the start.
Losing Touch with Your Real Identity
Beverly Amsel, Ph.D., is a therapist based in New York, who relates her experience of clients who engage in excessive impression management over a period and concludesthat this affects them negatively. She explains that when these clients visit her for therapy, they often feel there's something wrong with their lives, but they don't know what. They battle to articulate or express their feelings, show poor relationship skills and many battles to form close relationships.
In her own words: "It's as if a false structure of self-collapses and leaves little underneath to hold the person upright. What becomes apparent through talking in therapy are the underlying feelings that have been pushed aside in the process of creating false impressions. As these clients talk in therapy, they begin to uncover shame, a lack of self-confidence, anxiety about failure, self-hate, and many other feelings they'd defended (themselves)against."
This is another real danger in personal impression management, then - losing your identity. Amsel tells of one client who used to 'dress for success,' and who carefully managed her image at work, and even during the therapy sessions. She referred to herself as a 'woman of all seasons', who shaped her image according to what she feltpeople wanted from her. "She had no sense of her core self," explains Amsel. Fortunately, after months of therapy, the client was able to reacquaint with who she was.
Impression Management in Advertising
We don't only manage our image, we also are being managed on a big scale. The marketing industry, which encompasses areas as diverse as health, politics, and environmental issues, is very guilty of employing tactics to manage people's impressions, and ultimately, their behavior. For this article, only impression management in business will be discussed.
Ethical marketing and business focus on what the customers need and advertise accordingly. However, this is, unfortunately, most often not what happens.
Says Victor Danciu, Bucharest University, in his paper: "The companies have their interests and objectives which, many times, are far from aligning with what the consumers need, and, quite often, don' t hesitate to make up marketing solutions which misconduct or deceive the consumers, in order to achieve them." He lists the following as methods that unethical advertisers use to persuade the public to buy their products or services:
- Deceitful advertising, which uses facts, but deceitful ones. "(Advertising) uses confusing, misleading or blatantly untrue statements when promoting a product," says Danciu. Think of weight loss products such as tablets, where advertisers suggest that only their product is neededto lose weight. This is an exaggeration of the quality of the products and is a very common method used by advertisers.
- Bad arguments in advertising are found when fallacious arguments are held up as the truth. This can be done intentionally or in ignorance.
- Emotive persuasion is the most common manipulative advertising method used - think, again, of weight-loss products. Advertisements either threaten overweight consumers with stories about dangerous potential health issues, for instance or else promise heaven on earth once those kilos are gone. This form of advertising aims to manipulate consumers consciously and unconsciously. As such, these advertisements are designed toappeal to people's need to be accepted, nurtured, loved, also to the need for sex, attention, autonomy,and safety, to name but a few. "One example is antibacterial hand gel," explains Dance. "Many companies have capitalized on health scares like the swine flu and SARS by connecting their sanitizer products to these outbreaks…So (advertises) insinuate that using antibacterial soap will prevent people from getting a specific illness. But, while hand sanitizer sales amplified, these products do nothing to defend against contagions. Both viruses are spread via tiny droplets in the air there are sneezed or coughed by people who are already infected." This, then, is another example of deceitful advertising.
When to Get Help
If you feel that your life is inexplicably empty,but you cannot put your finger on the reason for this and other emotionsplaguing you, it could be that you have lost touch with who you are. We all do our best to manage how others see us, for various reasons, but in excess, this social behavioris not good. In such a case, it may be time to see a therapist, for which BetterHelp can be an excellent platform. Your specific need will be matchedwith a qualified counselor or therapist, and you will not need to leave the privacy of your home.