The Art of Impression Management: Unveiling its Hidden Dangers to Your Business Success

Ever felt uncertain?

You’ve inherited a new team. Started a new leadership role. Changed companies.

Maybe you’re at a networking event and you feel the pressure of navigating your way through social interactions with those you know or complete strangers.

It’s in these circumstances our awareness of what others think of us skyrockets.

Self-consciousness gets supercharged.

That’s why networking can be so damn exhausting. We’re trying to not only download information of others but we’re considering every move and behaviours in order to give off the right perception on how we WANT others to us.

It’s a fascinating scenario if you think about.

It makes no sense logically that we can control what others think. However, it doesn’t stop us from presenting the person we want people to think we are.

I can speak from experience that Impression Management if done daily is utterly exhausting.

For years in the first part of my career I cared greatly about what others thought of me. Partly a desperation for wanting to fit in the rest wanting to be seen as being good at what I did.

I often think back and contemplate was it mastery of my craft I was after or just others viewing I had mastery. They’re 2 very separate things.

Impression management can be helpful

Leaders face many scenarios where impression management is not just necessary but vital. Pitching for funding, presenting to a board or delivering annual results to the team.

For employees presenting yourself well can get you a new job, a promotion, a favourable relationship with your boss or even a nice cash bonus.

However, successful leaders know they can’t live here. They know when you work closely with your team day in day out, they’re actually looking for signals of who you are and who they can be at work.

Impression management will backfire if you overdo it.

The dangers of impression management

When we detect a gap between what leaders say and think they will lose credibility. Despite the leadership status in your business you can’t help but be yourself at some point. So instead of just letting it slip, deliver it with intention.

The negatives don’t stop here.

If you are too focused on what other people think of you, you will inhibit and handicap your ability to learn, make mistakes and develop real connections with others at work.

What do you do if you have a team where impression management seems rife?

Model the behaviour!

This is where you and your leaders NEED to act first and model vulnerability and openness.

Being an authentic leader drives connection with your team but it also models a behaviour that they can do the same with their team.

Improve psychological safety

Impression management is at its highest with teams when psychological safety is low. It can be conscious or an unconscious process. Some people may not even be aware that they are trying to manage other’s impressions.

Call it out (or ask for feedback)

Sometimes it can take a leader, or someone who knows us better like a spouse, to get us to realise where we are on the spectrum of impression management.

My now husband used to point out that when he would call me at work he would get my ‘work voice’.

Nothing about this work voice was how I spoke.

It was deeper and certainly more measured and he would take full advantage of asking me questions over the phone he knew I couldn’t respond to as I normally would.

I would try to respond in my fully edited, professional work voice. Let’s just say he had a hay day.

How can impression management effect your business?

If you’re team is faking it and stuck in impression management, it ensures that few will speak up when it matters.

Water cooler conversations will happen instead of constructive criticism in the room. These conversations can be deadly. Fostering negative mindsets and hurting retention rates.

Engagement also takes a hit and if you’re team are delivering services to your customers guaranteed their impression managing with them as well.

This means weaker connections which results in weaker customer experience and weaker sales and revenue.

Erving Goffman popularized the concept of perception management in his book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, where he argues that impression management not only influences how one is treated by other people but is an essential part of social interaction.

It can get you the status, the job, the deal but eventually to make genuine connections that positively influence those around us we need to be real.

We need to be authentic.

We’re all searching and scanning for genuine connections so don’t underestimate people’s ability to see through the façade we portray. (We’re all BS detectors).

Leaders willing to show themselves drive engagement in their team and they model that behaviour so teams follow the lead.

The results?

More open conversations. More candor. More ideas.

Higher engagement. Higher retention.

Better customer experience. Better business.  

If you want to drive authenticity in your business reach out. I facilitate effective change and collaboration amongst teams so they can work better and you can grow your business. If you want to improve things fast, reach out.