Impression Management: Doing Good is Not Enough – You Have to be Seen Doing Good

Copyright 2006 Harrison Monarth

Chances are, you’ve done at least one of the following…

• Gone on a diet, or angled for a promotion, in time for a class reunion.
• Scrambled to clean the house before your mother-in-law arrives.
• Debated over what tie or blouse to wear before an important meeting.

These are all instances of impression management. It’s a technique you employ just about every day, often without being aware of it. But do you realize its importance in the workplace? Polishing your skills at impression management just might be the key to getting that promotion, or increasing your boss’s respect for your efforts.

Impression management is a way of controlling your self-presentation and managing your behavior in certain situations, to take control over the impression you leave on others. Impression management is all about being your own publicist – actively maintaining your good reputation, and allowing others to see the value you bring to the table.

And while the term ‘impression management’ may sound like just a buzzword, the concept has been around for quite a long time. In fact, Benjamin Franklin wrote quite candidly about impression management in his autobiography, first published in 1868. He writes: “In order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman, I took care not only to be in reality industrious and frugal, but to avoid all appearances to the contrary. I dressed plainly; I was seen at no places of idle diversion… and, to show that I was not above my business, I sometimes brought home the paper I purchased at the stores through the streets on a wheelbarrow.”

Still good ideas today! Another example: Dale Carnegie’s long-time bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People was first published in 1936, going on to sell over 15 million copies. Similarly, Harrison Monarth’s book The Confident Speaker helps presenters of today manage the impressions of audiences everywhere.

Impression management has clearly been around for quite awhile, undoubtedly long before Benjamin Franklin. However, in today’s branding oriented world, it’s more critical to success than ever. Organizations worldwide devote much of their efforts to actively managing their brands and reputations. And just like the smart corporate players – managers, employees and entrepreneurs should also seek to manage their reputations and the impressions they leave on people – their own personal brands. This article will explain some solid concepts and techniques in impression management. While things may have changed a lot since 1868, in some ways they haven’t changed at all.

Techniques for Impression Management

• Maintain a professional and well-groomed physical appearance

If you want a star role, you have to dress the part! In the career world, this means dressing professionally and attractively, exemplifying whatever dress code is appropriate for your particular workplace. While you usually won’t be expected to wear the latest fashions, your clothes should be clean, pressed, and relatively new. Your personal appearance should also be neat and clean. This communicates the message that you are aware how you come across and committed to putting your best foot forward.

• Use appropriate and positive body language

Develop body language that is both welcoming and confident. Maintain comfortable eye contact. Smile when it’s appropriate, whether it’s the “social” smile or an authentic smile of joy. Reflect your self-confidence and self-esteem by standing straight and tall, with great posture and your head held high. Offer a firm handshake. Discuss ideas with open palms.

• Use positive impact words and phrases

Use confident, positive phrasing when suggesting your ideas. At the same time, be encouraging about the ideas of others, too.

Pay attention to the speaking patterns and phrases used by your colleagues, particularly your superiors. What type of language does your boss find inspirational or motivational? By using the words and phrases that strike home with him or her, you can make it easier for the two of you to communicate more powerfully and positively for the results you seek.

• Don’t be afraid to self-promote

You might believe that your good work will speak for itself. But it can only do so if the right people know about it. How can you help your best efforts speak a little louder? Don’t be afraid to take ownership and talk about your successful projects. And remember Ben Franklin’s approach – it doesn’t hurt to be seen carrying your work home every now and then.

Remember that self-promotion is basically a form of advertising. Honesty in advertising is always the best policy, and the practice of personal impression management is no exception to this rule. If you falsely advertise your strengths, talents, and accomplishments, the impression you leave will likely be quite negative once the truth emerges.

Most people are more likely to play down their achievements than exaggerate them. This is especially true for female professionals, who frequently feel uncomfortable “bragging” about their strengths. But look at it this way: if you really do have valuable contributions to make, your superiors and peers want to know, just as much as you want them to. Self-promoting isn’t just about advancing yourself – it’s also about communicating your abilities clearly, so you can offer your best resources to the team.

• Develop relationships at the office

Strengthen your position in the team by cultivating friendly and positive relationships with your coworkers and superiors. This doesn’t necessarily mean schmoozing, or professing your love for cats to your cat-loving boss – even though you’re allergic to felines. Chances are, you have at least one or two things in common with everyone at your office. Look for these shared interests or experiences, and use them as an opportunity to genuinely relate to your coworkers.

• Be a team player

Be willing to cover your teammates’ or your bosses’ backs once in a while. This doesn’t mean consistently taking the fall for someone else’s incompetence; however, mistakes do happen, sometimes at inopportune times. If you can help minimize the fallout, you should do so. By helping your coworkers maintain their professional reputations, you’ll earn their gratitude and respect, and they’ll be more inclined to do the same for you in a similar situation. Besides, it’s the golden rule.

In conclusion: your reputation is your most critical asset in today’s professional world. Develop it and protect it, as you would with any other asset. What worked in 1868 continues to work today – you can let your great work speak for itself, but you have to give it a platform.