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Impression Management in Sociology: Theory, Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Impression Management?
  • 1:32 Why We Do It
  • 2:57 Impression Management…
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

In this lesson, we will define the theory of impression management, examine the reasons people seek to influence others' perceptions and the ways they seek to accomplish it.

What Is Impression Management?

Impression management is the effort to control or influence other people's perceptions. This could be their perception of a certain person (including you), a material possession or an event. The theory goes on to explain that we try to make the perception consistent with our goals. For example, a girl who only shares good things about her boyfriend to her parents may be trying to present him as a good catch so they can stay together. If a woman spends hours thinking about the right outfit to wear to a party, she may be trying to present herself as beautiful and stylish while looking for a date. Of course, many of us can identify with the desire (and resulting actions) to be seen a certain way or cause someone or something we care about to be seen a certain way. Sometimes it's conscious and sometimes it isn't, but when we pay attention, we may find several perceptions we are striving to get from others.

The most common types of impression management have to do with self-presentation, and in the business world, the presentation of merchandise. How often have you wondered what someone will think of you if you do this or that, or if you don't do it? We strive to have others view us positively, because we tend to put emphasis on other views in ways that impact our self-esteem. As far as marketing goes, businessmen are going to present a product in the best light possible. Their job relies on managing the impressions of the audience in specific ways that boosts revenues. Also, in their understanding of human behavior, they might even imply that if you own this product you may be more liked by others.

Why We Do It

There are two main motives we have for trying to manage the impressions of others: the instrumental and the expressive.

The instrumental motive includes what we have already mentioned: the desire for increased self-esteem. The fundamental meaning of instrumental motivation is the gaining of rewards. So, when we try to manage perceptions to get something back from another person, we are motivated by instrumental purposes. For example, if a sales representative shares with her customer that she uses this particular bar of soap and goes on to explain how it has helped her skin, her reason for encouraging this sale might be her desire for a raise. Maybe that is why she has been trying many products lately and praising them to customers. Besides seeking a raise, a person could be looking for acceptance, respect, more friends, etc.

Have you ever felt like you wanted to redefine yourself or how you think you have been seen by others? Maybe when you were growing up, your parents wanted you to dress, speak or act a certain way, and you wanted to show them they couldn't define you. Whether or not we have felt this way, many people become aware of how they are viewed and want to change that view of them. An expressive motive comes down to wanting to be in charge of one's personal behavior and identity. It can come from a response to social norms, expectations or restrictions, and it seeks to show others something different.

Impression Management Strategies

There are many different strategies we can use while trying to impact the views of others. The most common impression management strategies include ingratiation, intimidation, supplication, self-promotion and exemplification.

Here's an example of ingratiation: there is a restaurant that you and your mother frequent in town. For some reason, one of the head waitresses there never seems to like you, and you don't know why. She just seems cold and moody every time she waits on you, whereas she smiles and laughs with other customers. This really bothers your mother, so she starts flattering the waitress. Every time you go into the restaurant, mom says hello and asks how the waitress is doing. Mom compliments the waitress' necklace or hairdo or says that that the waitress is one of the hardest workers there. Whether you mother knows it or not, she's using the method of ingratiation, or flattery and praise, to get someone to think positively about her.

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