Impression Management for Everyday Life

Impression Management

How we think about controlling how we present ourselves to others is a concept known as impression management. It is a part of normal human behavior, and like any other aspect of mental and physical health, impression management tactics can be used for good and harm.

Have you ever walked into a room and immediately wished you could leave, and everyone would forget your first impression? Or maybe you thought you did so well that you hoped that whenever you met someone new, you would present yourself that way. People manage impressions in personal and professional settings, hoping to control how others see them.

This article will examine impression management and how it impacts our everyday lives. It will begin by discussing impression management theory and providing examples of instances when managing impressions may appear in everyday life. Next, it will outline the behaviors considered part of impression management and the factors influencing effective impression management techniques. Finally, it will end with a discussion of strategic self-presentation and give tips on how to leave a positive impression with each interaction.

Impression Management Theory

The impression management theory was created by Erving Goffman, a master of sociology and social psychology, in his 1959 work, The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life. He theorized that the sum of all the actions we take, consciously and unconsciously, to control how others see us can be used to influence those around us. He outlined seven behaviors that form the basis of the theory, which will be discussed with others later. Impression management can also be called self-presentation.

The theory has grown and taken on new ideas as the world changed dramatically from the 1950s to the 1960s. The notion of impression management was initially confined to face-to-face communication. Still, it has since been expanded to include all kinds of interactions and interpersonal relationships, including social media and the influence that has, particularly with self-promotion. However, the underlying theory that people perceive a person gains positive social value through impression and interaction remains at the heart.

The theory outlines two distinct phases within impression management: impression motivation and impression construction. These are its defining principles.

Impression Motivation

The first phase in impression management is impression motivation, where someone may identify goals for professional or personal gain that then drive how they wish to be perceived by others. In this stage, a person may identify the ways that positive perceptions impact their goals, whether it be positive impressions impacting a bustling social life or a negative impression causing negative consequences for the person.

After the implications of impressions are outlined with the goals the person has, they will then outline where these goals lie on the overall scale and the value they add to the person’s self-esteem. If one of the particular impressions is tied to a high-value goal, they may take stock of where their self-perception is and where they would like it to be to achieve that goal, creating the motivation to manage perceptions.

Impression Construction

After a person has their motivations, they will begin impression construction, which starts with taking stock of the self-concept and identifying where your self-presentation could improve to meet these goals. Self-concepts are the ways that we think others view us, which may not always be accurate, especially when self-deception and mental health issues are present. However, to construct a desired impression, people form a self-concept that fits with their understanding of the perceptions they create.

Once one has identified their self-concepts, they will create a desired identity or impression they would like to use for career success or other public image issues. When they recognize the value assigned to this identity or image, they will work to manage their impressions effectively. Once they have achieved this public image, they will work on maintaining self-control to remain grounded in the self-presentation they created.

Examples of Self-Presentation in the Wild

To better understand impression management strategies and theory, consider the following examples of situations and social interactions in which you may hope to make a favorable impression on the people you encounter.

First Date

This is likely one of the first examples you may have come up with. When we start a new romantic relationship, we hope to make a good impression on the person we spend time with. However, we want this impression to match our self-image so that it is sustainable. Creating and painting this desired impression can be difficult in personal relationships.

Job Interview

Another place you may find yourself looking to make a positive impression is in job interviews. Similar to a first date, a job interview is the first time that a potential employer will be able to interact with you and get to know your personality.


Once you land the job, you may need to create a desired image for yourself at work. Moving through your ordinary work situations presents a chance to create an image for yourself. Workplace impression management will help you create the desired impressions you hope to portray, such as the overachiever or constant volunteer.

Social Media

Because nearly everyone has a social media presence these days, it has become its own social context. We seek to portray a specific image of ourselves on social media, and it may not always accurately reflect who we are. It is the one place where we often have more direct control over the image and can manipulate it most dramatically.

These examples barely scratch how we seek to create images of ourselves for others. As we discuss the theory and additional examples below, consider how these personal and professional settings may influence how we portray ourselves and how the impression shifts with different situations.

Self Presentation Behaviors

In addition to the above examples, certain behaviors are commonplace among people trying to sculpt their self-presentation strategies and images. These behaviors will not be present in every social setting, but these can be indicators that someone is attempting impression management behaviors. Which behaviors you use can shift with the goals of your impression management strategies and will often require practice to perfect when and how to use each one.

Overwhelming Compliments

One of the most common behaviors in impression management is ingratiation, where the person gives everyone around them compliments and agreement to create a positive impact on the personal or professional image they are hoping to create. People enjoy receiving compliments and having someone agree with them, so such behaviors may influence how they perceive you, likely for the better. It is most commonly used with those in power over your professional goals. The quintessential example of this behavior is the “teacher’s pet,” who agrees with and values the teacher’s opinion of them over their peers.


Another typical behavior is intimidation or aggression. This is when a person uses force or power to create an image of dominance over the situation, often causing others to listen to and respect them out of fear. This may be the case in some professional settings, primarily when the company culture supports those dominating others to get ahead. However, fear is not a great source of respect, so it may not be a good long-term solution and could cause a negative impression.

Self Promotion

Another way that we work on managing impressions is to create an air of perfection around our work and social life. Within many professional relationships, we will work to project an image of perfection and outline our strengths in a positive light. We may do this consciously or subconsciously through verbal and nonverbal acts to create a sense of success around our career advancement. This is most commonly observed through someone taking the front stage on a project and working as both the performer and the director of the outcome, loudly demonstrating how much they are doing for the project.


Excuses are another form of behavior that is consistent with impression management. Excuses are a person’s way of explaining a negative event. People will use these excuses to justify occasional or consistent negative behaviors and encourage others to see them as the victim of their circumstances rather than the person in control. Excuses will work for some social favor, but if they are used too frequently, they can harm your social image and backfire with your plans for self-promotion.

It is essential to realize that every situation will happen to someone at some point, so an excuse here or there is not a big issue. Acknowledging that these circumstances can impact a person’s life will create empathy and a more lasting social connection than any other impression management strategy. Additionally, it is important not to call out this behavior as impression management until it potentially becomes an issue.


When portraying an air of confidence and self-esteem, assertiveness may be a helpful skill to develop. Assertiveness is the ability to say what you believe or think is the best option or set boundaries around interactions or topics. By setting clear intentions and standing firm in them, you can convince those around you that you are sure and steady in your beliefs, which exudes self-confidence and trust in yourself.

It can also help people feel empowered around you and feel that you can take charge when necessary. It also helps others view you as confident, which can benefit career growth and other strategies.


Another common form of impression management is conformity, where a person works to fit into different social groups by acknowledging and matching the social norms created by the groups. This is a common behavior of those with lower self-esteem or social anxiety because it is an easy way to get the group to see you as one of them. Conformity is a helpful way to gain insider status with a particular group, but it can cause harm if you need to change large portions of your personality to fit in with the group. Balancing between necessary conformity and inauthentic behavior is a skill that needs to be developed with care.

Factors that Influence Impression Management

In addition to the goal impression setting the behavior needed, other factors will influence how and why you use certain impression management options. These factors may be considered consciously or subconsciously as you interact with a group where you need to manage the perceptions of those around you. Impression management requires an analysis of the situation and how you will choose to interact.

Audience’s Expectations

One of the most significant indications or factors that will be considered is the audience and their expectations of how you will choose to show up for this audience. When interacting with strangers, we tend to present a more formal and shortened image of ourselves. However, when we are around close friends, we will likely act very differently. Understanding your audience and their expectations will shape how you choose to show up.


Your personality is often the most significant indicator of how you will manage your impressions. Because it is the core of who you are, it will influence much of your decision-making and understanding of the world around you. You will likely give off the best impressions to those around you when the goal image and your personality line up. Additionally, certain personality traits can make it more or less likely that you can participate adequately in impression management.

Self Esteem

Your sense of self will also affect impression management. If you are self-assured, you will likely be confident in the image you would like to present. If your self-regard is low, you may not be as confident, and your ability to influence how others see you will be reduced. It is much easier to portray confidence if it matches your inner self-worth.


As discussed in the phases of impression management above, the motivation for the impression you hope to portray will impact how you can perform self-promotion. Wanting to be liked by peers differs from hoping to impress at job interviews. Understanding the role that motivation has in how you present yourself will help you shape the image you desire to portray. Finding the correct motivation will help you influence those around you.

Role in Social Interactions

In interpersonal relationships, we are assigned roles that we may play into or try to avoid. These may be general roles, such as friend or coworker, or more specific, such as the party’s life or the perfectionist. The setting and expectations placed on you by the setting may dictate how you engage with those around you and the impression you choose to pursue. While we have some agency in presenting ourselves, others may dictate how we behave in certain situations. For this reason, our social roles may heavily impact impression management.

Cultural Norms

Similar to social roles in our relationships, cultural norms may also impact how we present ourselves. This can be things like performing within the societal expectations of our assigned gender or working to restore honor in an honor-based system. When we exist in a culture, the culture often dictates what is acceptable and how we need to present ourselves to others within that culture. We tend to shape the identity we hope to create around what others expect of us. Refusing to accept the will of the culture may also be how cultural norms impact our impression management strategies, sometimes causing us to be shunned until the culture is changed.

Impression Management Strategies

Now that we have a basic understanding of how impression management works and the behaviors that can be employed to manage the way that others around you see you, it can be helpful to discuss some tips for how to navigate managing impression management and some basic ideas for crafting an impression management scheme regardless of the situation.

Understand Your Audience

One of the best things you can do when hoping to make a good impression is to get to know your audience. This may mean researching the company you are interviewing with and getting a feel for their work. By understanding the type of person you believe they are looking for, you can craft your skills and ideas around becoming the person they need. This will often be more casual and less important in social settings and among peers, as you often look to develop your impression around those who do not need you to shift your entire personality to be friends with them.

Listen Well

By listening to others well, you will understand how to engage with them. By listening, you will gain valuable insight into how the other person behaves and what they value. This can quickly help you understand if you share similar interests and can help you start a genuine connection around a shared goal. If you think about what you want to say next instead, you will probably miss all the good that can come from what they say.

Authenticity First

While understanding and managing a first impression or a later impression is important, you want to make sure that you are being authentic in how you present yourself. If your whole impression is based on a fabricated or exaggerated story, keeping that up throughout the relationship or job will be difficult. Understanding how to highlight parts of your authentic self that fit the job description or share interests with others will often mean that you are both making a good impression and able to sustain the image as you continue in the social setting.

Avoid Deception

Along with authenticity, you need to avoid deception in your impression management. You do not want to spin a lie that you cannot keep up with or base your impression on a version of yourself that no longer exists. Choosing authenticity and truth over exaggeration or dishonesty will leave a lasting good impression on all you meet.

Match the Setting

Like understanding your audience, you must also understand the setting. If you are going to a job interview, you will want to look and act the part, which will be very different from attending a concert with new friends. By understanding the setting, you can ensure that you do not stick out before you even have a chance to engage with the people you are hoping to impress. People form opinions quickly, and it can be difficult to change them if you stick out.


Many people learn impression management by watching others do it. It can be helpful in certain situations, especially in professional relationships. However, it can be challenging to continue with impression management if you do not create an impression around your personality’s authentic and genuine parts. Understanding who you are is crucial to managing impressions and influencing those around you, and understanding your audience is beneficial for highlighting the best parts of yourself. Finding genuine connections and encouraging those to bloom will leave only good impressions behind.

Contact ADR Times today to learn more about impression management, conflict resolution, and more!

Emily Holland
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