Impression Management: Acting in its Most Natural Form

06 April 2014

In a world where we are expected to play different roles whilst remaining true to ourselves, it has become necessary to learn the art of how to act and with whom. An advertisement for a professional social network goes something like, "you do not want your boss to see what you do on those girls/guys nights out, and potential employers are not looking for party animals who drink till they cannot remember their own mother`s name, so have a social network profile where your marketable skills are outlined along with a proper and carefully thought off picture of yourself". This is what is termed "impression management, the difference in an individual`s behaviour with different groups of people depending on the value the individual attaches to those people and what s/he aims to achieve from interactions or relationships with them".

Constructive impression management can be seen as the part of oneself that one portrays when one has a positive goal that they aim to achieve and intentionally showcase the talents and skills that will help them achieve that goal. The example of the advertisement above can be used here where an individual is applying for employment and has information about the skills required and portrays those skills in order to get the position. The person who has those skills is not being deceitful, and highlights those skills whilst downplaying the negative aspects of himself. Other examples of constructive impression management include the way a man behaves towards a woman he is interested in, a new bride with her mother in law and a college student who wants to join a society that has a selection process. This type of impression management requires that the individual shows skills and behaviour they are able to maintain in the long run and must be based on honesty.

There are numerous other examples of impression management and underlying causes. For example, insecure individuals who act extravagantly to impress as secure and hide their true feelings of low self-esteem, individuals who overspend to impress as rich, individuals who have experienced hurt and disappointment and show forth a "cold" exterior to avoid further pain. The common thing amongst all people is that they show these behaviours in order to give certain impressions about themselves to other people.

Impression management is used in everyday lives, whether people are aware of it or not. It assists people in categorising the skills they need for certain places and events. This is further done by people in the manner in which they dress and speak. Impression management is not only limited to the way human beings present themselves through their words, but is also seen in the clothes they choose to wear on a daily basis, the language and even the tone of voice they choose to communicate with. It involves individuals studying the behaviour, skills and/or attributes desired by a particular group and learning those skills or pretending that one has those skills. This is carefully done to give different groups a certain image of oneself

Destructive impression management is when an individual intentionally acts negatively towards certain groups because they do not see the value in those individuals. With this type of impression management, one can think of words such as "two faced" and "wolf in sheep skin" wherein people respect and honour people with power and authority and treat the less "attractive people" with contempt and a negative attitude. It is seen in the way cashiers and other service providers treat black customers as opposed to white customers, in the way an employee treats a subordinate as opposed to another of a more superior post or the way people act with strangers/ non relatives as opposed to the way they act with family and people closely related to them, the way certain mothers-in-law treat their sons`s new brides. Deception is an example of destructive impression management wherein people purposely lie to others in order to gain positions they are not worthy of or qualified for. In the work place, it is done when potential employees lie on their CVs and put qualifications they do not have in order to be appointed. The example of the COO of the SABC comes to mind at this point in time. However, media reports say that certain employees of the SABC are happy with the work he has been doing and believe he should be left to do his job. This is an aspect of impression management used by individuals who deem themselves as having the skills to do the work required, but not the qualification.

So, with all that is expected from us in the present times, is Impression Management a negative aspect or an ability to adjust to necessary roles in order to achieve desired results? Are we justified to carry out this "acting without script" in the natural or situation we find ourselves in, be it constructively or destructively, in order to help us achieve our desired outcomes or can we ever be the same type of person in all situations?

Both the constructive and the destructive come out as a natural act in response to the desired goal, so can fault be found in the person who overlooks the needs of others to further their own agenda, or the employment candidate who downplays certain attributes in favour of others to achieve a desired goal?

Phathutshedzo Mukona

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