Go on! Impress me!

Footprint in the sand

What sort of impression are you making?

Aminder Nijjar’s recent post about Career Image sent me off on a little journey into the world of impression management.

  • How do people try to control or influence the images they present to their work colleagues?
  • To what extent is career success linked to one’s ability to present an acceptable image?

A commonly used list of impression management tactics was produced by Jones and Pitman in 1982. They listed the following tactics:

  • Ingratiation — getting people to like you
  • Self-promotion — telling people how good you are
  • Exemplification — convincing people that you work really hard
  • Supplication — getting people to sympathise with you
  • Intimidation — threatening or appearing dangerous

Much of the research on self-presentation has focused on ingratiation and self-promotion (which seem to correspond respectively to the pull and push styles of influencing).

It appears that getting people to like you (ingratiation) is more strongly linked to success (both in terms of objective career progress — promotions — and in performance evaluations) than self-promotion. Perhaps because of the halo effect, this seems to have the biggest impact during the early stages of a work relationship.

However, impression management can be dangerous. If you get self-promotion wrong, you may appear conceited rather than competent. If you fudge ingratiation you may be labelled as sychophantic rather than likeable.

Turnley & Bolino (2001) link self-monitoring to success in using impression management techniques. So, the more you are aware of what you are doing and the impact it is having on people, the more likely you are to leave a good impression.

Harris et al. (2007) link success in impression management with ‘political skill’ which they define as ‘the ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others‘. So, the better you are at sussing out what makes other people tick, the better you will be at impression management.

If someone is lacking in self-monitoring or political skills, they may be better off not trying to use these tactics.

  • How often do we draw attention to impression management as a component of career success?
  • What can we do to promote self-monitoring and political skills?
  • How often do you use ingratiation, self-promotion, exemplification, supplication or intimidation in your career?

Further reading

Related post: How to make people like you

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  1. #1 by helencurry on 11 November 2009 - 13:45

    Interesting – got me thinking about how people manage their work reputation online, particularly considering the number of entrepreneurs, consultants and self-declared web 2.0 ‘experts’ I come across using blogs and Twitter to boost their reputation. I would say ingratiation and exemplification are the most common strategies.

    I think readers online are quite sensitive to over-use of exemplification, but as with any networking, if the examples are exciting enough people will be impressed.

    Ingratiation is very common, particularly on Twitter, and is probably considered the most appropriate behaviour to adopt on that medium.

    So it looks like the methods of impression management translate quite neatly to the virtual world. But are people more or less aware of their personal brand online?

    At networking training, I have found it interesting to see how some people who will gladly share all kinds of information in person will point-blank refuse to engage with online networking, for privacy concerns, or a feeling that they won’t know what to do.

    Then there are the naive ones, who have excellent intuitive awareness when building their personal brand for non-work activities, but are either unaware of how that comes across at work, or uncertain of how to do the same consciously to build a work-centred personal brand.

    And there are those who in person are less communicative, but online find it much easier to articulate their thoughts in text, and feel more comfortable with relationships maintained at a distance.

    It feels easy to pick out examples like this, but why is there a disconnect? If the methods of impression management are the same, why do people feel so differently about it online?

    • #2 by David Winter on 11 November 2009 - 17:00

      Really interesting point Helen!

      Off the top of my head, it sounds to me like there are a number of different things going on here aside from the usual technophobia.

      With those people who are more willing to share face-to-face than online, it would be interesting to see if they would behave differently if their face-to-face communications were being recorded. Perhaps it is the permanence of commiting something to text. It is less transient than something stored in electronic form. It can be more easily forgotten or denied.

      For those people who are more comfortable with online relationships than live ones it may be to do with the time to think and compose that is available with online, text-based communication. Live communication requires a lot of spontaneity and thinking on your feet. It is easier to make mistakes. Some people prefer live communication to online communication for exactly the same reason – they may dislike having time to think about their answer and would rather respond in the moment.

      The issue of people behaving differently in different settings is very interesting. There is quite a lot of evidence that people don’t just have one consistent identity. They may have several slightly different identities which operate in different contexts. These different identities will often perceive the world in slightly different ways from each other. One of your identities in one context may make certain decisions that, you in a different context would not have made. This could explain why someone who is quite savvy in one area of their life can be quite naive in another area. See the post ‘Who are you…now?‘ for some thoughts on this. I’ve got another post planned on the topic of different identities and how they make choices – watch this space!

  2. #3 by helencurry on 12 November 2009 - 11:24

    Just came across this blog post today that also looks at image management, particularly for students


    Has some really interesting points relating to diversity – I might right a post for the Reach blog, but it might just be too depressing…

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