Impression Management (Definition + Tips)

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Practical Psychology

How we present ourselves plays an important role in shaping our personal and professional lives. The way we dress, the stories we tell, and even the photos we choose to share on social media are all decisions that contribute to how others perceive us. But have you ever stopped to think about the science and strategy behind these choices?

Impression Management is how people try to shape what others think of them. It's like showing your best side or fitting in with a group at work or with friends.

Let’s learn about its origins, its implications, and its undeniable relevance in today’s dynamic world.

Understanding Impression Management

solo person in the spotlight theatre

Imagine you're assembling a puzzle. Each piece represents a bit of who you are—your hobbies, your dreams, your quirks, and even your favorite foods.

Now, imagine you're show this puzzle to different groups of people: your family, your friends, or a prospective employer.

Would you present the same completed picture to everyone? Likely not. You'd adjust some pieces, emphasizing certain aspects while perhaps minimizing or hiding others. This real-life 'puzzle arrangement' is a lot like impression management.

Basically, impression management theory is about shaping how you're perceived. It's like being a director of your own movie, deciding which scenes to include for specific audiences.

If successful, the person gains positive social value and opinion conformity, which means that everyone in a particular audience (be it work, family, friends, or others) has the same image of you.

Now, this doesn't mean being inauthentic; it's just about recognizing and responding to social cues.

In the digital age, impression management extends beyond face-to-face interactions. Consider your social media profiles. You probably have that perfect shot from your recent vacation as your profile picture.

Or perhaps you shared an article about a cause you deeply care about. Each post, each like, and even each share is a choice you make in managing how others perceive you online. These decisions influence your online public image, a modern part of personal branding.

Understanding impression management isn't just about knowing how to put your best foot forward. It’s also about grasping why people do it, and the psychological mechanisms behind it.

It plays a pivotal role in job interviews, first dates, and everyday situations. Recognizing it can make you more aware of your actions and how they affect your relationships.

By now, you might be thinking: "So, we all do this to some extent?" Yes, absolutely. It’s an inherent part of human nature. And as you continue reading, you'll grasp its broader contexts, historical roots, and how you can use it effectively in your life.

Impression Management in History

Long before the rise of modern social psychology itself, humans have been mindful of how they come across to others. Every era and civilization has its own customs, etiquette, and values that guide behavior.

So, while the term "impression management" might seem relatively recent, the concept? It's as old as human society itself.

Think of ancient Egypt. Pharaohs were often depicted in grandiose poses, larger than everyone else in hieroglyphs. Their posture, clothing, and surroundings—all were carefully chosen.

This wasn't just art; it was a statement. These rulers weren't simply trying to look good. They had impression motivation to showcase their power and divine connection. This portrayal reinforced their authority and distinguished them from the masses.

Fast forward a bit, and you'll find the Renaissance era in Europe—a time of enlightenment and rediscovery. Painters like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo created beautiful portraits of their subjects. But there was more to these paintings than met the eye.

These weren't just visual records; they were also tools for reputation management. A noblewoman, captured in an unassuming pose with a landscape backdrop wasn't just sitting for a painting. She was sending a message about her status, her virtue, and her place in society. She, too, had impression motivation.

It wasn't until the 20th century that academia recognized impression management theory. The field of sociology began to look into how individuals played roles in society and their social setting.

These roles, much like actors on a stage, had scripts, props, and costumes. This theatrical analogy was more than poetic—it was an idea that helped bridge ancient practices with modern understanding of self presentation.

You might think that managing your Instagram feed or rehearsing for a job interview is a modern thing. But remember: impression management has been around as long as humans. We've always wanted to control the impressions others have of us. Now, we call it "self promotion".

The Concept of Impression Management

Ever felt like life is a stage and we're all just actors playing our parts? That's a sociological perspective thought up by one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. Erving Goffman was that thinker's name.

Goffman introduced the world to a concept he called the dramaturgical approach. Imagine attending a play. Actors come on stage, play their parts, and use props—all while an audience watches.

In Goffman's eyes, everyday life isn't too different. We all perform a self presentation, whether we know it or not.

The world is our stage. The roles we play? They're not just limited to 'parent', 'employee', or 'friend'. They're more detailed. And these roles guide our behavior, shaping how we interact and present ourselves. The roles are the process by which people control how others form a desired image.

Now, when you're with your family, you might show your caring, nurturing side—like playing the role of a loving sibling or child. In contrast, during a business meeting, you'll highlight your professionalism and expertise.

Here, you've switched roles—from family member to business professional. And with each role, there are different behaviors, expectations, and, yes, impressions to manage. In other words, presenting oneself in a positive light to gain approval, or for other desired outcomes.

Goffman explained this using the terms front stage and back stage. The front stage is where the performance happens. It's your polished self presentation during a client pitch or your attentive listening on a date.

The back stage is the place where actors (or individuals) can be themselves. It's where you are away from your audience. This could be your home, where you relax in comfy pajamas, or the moments of laughter with close friends.

But here's the twist. Goffman emphasized that even in these 'authentic' backstage moments, some level of performance is still at play.

Maybe you're the 'funny one' in your friend group, so you're always on the lookout for a good joke. Or perhaps you're the 'responsible sibling', always making sure everything's in order. People form ideas of how they want to be seen that lead to self presentation strategies we perform all the time.

In other words, people want to leave a desired image which ends up meaning they are managing impressions all the time, even subconsciously.

Understanding Goffman's perspective offers a fresh lens to view everyday interactions. It's not about being fake or pretending. Instead, it's recognizing the many roles you take on throughout your day, each with its own set of expectations.

Key Concepts and Terminology

renaissance portrait

Speaking briefly, let's break down some of the key ideas of impression management.

To begin, let's introduce a new term: role conflict. As you juggle various roles—parent, employee, friend, partner—there might be times when these roles clash.

For instance, you might be torn between attending an important work event and your child's school play. This tug-of-war between roles can lead to stress because you have to decide which 'performance' is more important.

Another crucial concept is self-monitoring. Some people can naturally read a room and adjusting their behavior as needed. They're high self-monitors, constantly tweaking their self presentation to align with their audience's expectations.

On the flip side, low self-monitors tend to be more consistent in their behavior, regardless of the setting. They may still have an active social life, but their self control makes them act like the same person. In other words, they do not change their self presentation.

Lastly, there's identity management. While it sounds like impression management, it's more about how individuals shape their own self perception. We all have defining principles that people attempt to control to leave others with our desired impressions.

It's an internal process of understanding your self-concept and where you fit in society.

How We Manage Impressions in Daily Life

Ever noticed how your tone might change when talking to your grandparents compared to a childhood friend? Or you've caught yourself dressing differently for a casual get-together versus a business meeting.

These aren't random shifts; they're deliberate choices, subtle nods to the world of impression management. If done poorly, switching our verbal and nonverbal acts could leave a negative impression. On the other hand, some self presentation could lead to career success or positive interpersonal relations.

Let's explore some everyday scenarios where this comes to life.


Imagine you're at a college reunion. You might find yourself showing off your recent achievements. Perhaps you bring up the promotion you got or the trip you took last summer. Here, you're managing the impression of success.


Now, switch scenes. You're at a parent-teacher conference. Instead of focusing on your personal achievements, you focus on your child's progress.

You're interested in their strengths and areas for improvement. Your role here is that of an engaged and caring parent, and your interactions are changed to reinforce that image.


Consider online dating. Profile pictures, bio descriptions, and even initial messages are all carefully chosen. A person might highlight their love for adventure with photos of mountain hikes. Or they show off their passion for music with photos from concerts.

These choices aren't just about personal expression. They're aimed at attracting a partner who shares or admires those interests.

Social Media

Social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are playgrounds for impression management strategies. A person might share photos from a charity event they attended. They don't do it just to document the day but to show their values and community engagement.

On the other hand, sharing a workout video might be a way to showcase discipline, health-consciousness, and determination.


In job interviews, people often focus on qualities they believe the employer values. These include teamwork, leadership, or problem-solving skills.

It's not about showing off. It's about aligning oneself with your job performance, the company's culture and the role's requirements.

The Role of Technology

online persona

Our screens have become windows to the world and mirrors reflecting our personas back at us. Technology, particularly social media, has brought about a shift in the ways we engage in impression management. Specifically, we are now interested in self promotion at least as much, if not more, than self presentation.

Years ago, impression management only about in-person interactions. What mattered was how you dressed for an occasion, your posture, or the tone of your voice.

Now, it's about the photos you post, the status updates you share, and the people or pages you engage with. How we manage impressions has grown to include formal public relations, such as in a company or government, and self promotion if we are building a brand.

For instance, people on LinkedIn often share their career achievements, recommendations, and skills. It's the digital equal of a fancy suit. This is clearly self promotion, since the platform is for professional connections and job opportunities.

In contrast, Instagram and TikTok allow for more creativity and personal expression. From the look of your feed to the kind of stories you share, every post paints a picture of who you are (or who you'd like your followers to see you as). This is more self presentation than self promotion.

Yet, this technology can impact a person's own understanding of themselves. The temptation to project a picture-perfect life can sometimes overshadow the messy, real moments. It can feel like "everyone else is perfect, so why am I not?"

In the changing online world, one thing stays the same: we always try to show the best side of ourselves. It's about knowing who you're talking to and sharing the right part of you.

But remember, we shouldn't always focus on our self presentation. Sometimes, being genuine and offline is more important in everyday life.

Even though we're often behind screens, finding the right way to do this is both a skill and a careful thought, telling our story bit by bit. Just remember not to get too attached or attempt to control the image you are sharing with the world. You are still you, the bright spots and the challenges

Finding Balance Between Authenticity and Projection

Impression management is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can be a powerful tool, helping you navigate diverse social landscapes with ease.

On the other, if mismanaged, it can lead to stress, misunderstandings, and even a disconnection from your authentic self. Let's weigh the pros and cons to gain a better understanding.

Since we can't always know the impressions others form, or control the impressions we give, we have to think about how it affects us personally too.


Building Strong Relationships: By understanding what others expect and changing how you act, you can build stronger relationships.

Whether it's fitting into a new place or getting along with coworkers, impression management helps bring different people together.

Achieving Professional Success: In the work world, knowing the unspoken rules is as important as having the right training.

Adjusting how you show yourself, highlighting certain abilities, and getting how the office works can lead to more chances for both the performer and the people around them.

Boosting Self Esteem: When you successfully manage impressions, it can be a confidence booster. Positive feedback, whether in the form of compliments, promotions, or social media engagement, can reinforce a positive self image.

Navigating Social Challenges: If you're fixing an argument or agreeing in a discussion, changing how you talk based on who you're talking to is very helpful. It's about knowing what others think and replying in a way they understand.


Loss of Authenticity: Focusing too much on managing impressions can lead to a disconnect from who you really are. If you're always wearing a mask, it becomes challenging to recognize the face beneath. In other words, being so focused on how others perceive you can make it so you no longer have a real self image.

Mental Exhaustion: Always reading social signs and changing how you act can be tiring. It's like trying to keep many balls in the air and worrying about dropping one. Your impression management strategy could end up confusing your self concept.

Misunderstandings: At times, efforts to manage impressions might backfire. Your attempt to come across as confident could be perceived as arrogance. Or your desire to fit in might seem inauthentic. You can't always control the impressions you leave no matter how effective your self promotion is.

Overdependence on External Validation: If you value yourself based on what others think, you can become easily hurt and lose self esteem. Small criticisms feel bigger, and you rely on others to feel happy.

Handling impression management means knowing when to change and when to stay true to yourself. It's not about pretending but showing different sides of you.

While it's good to think about how you appear, being real and honest keeps you strong in any situation.

Cross-Cultural Perspectives

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Western Perspectives

In many Western societies, there's a strong emphasis on individualism. People are often encouraged to stand out, express their unique identities, and advocate for personal beliefs.

Impression management strategies in these contexts often revolves around show personal achievements and talents. Think of personal branding, a concept that's gained traction, especially in the age of digital influencers. It's about carving a niche, highlighting what sets you apart.

Eastern Perspectives

Many Eastern cultures focus on collectivism. Here, the group's needs often come before those of the individual. Harmony, unity, and familial ties play important roles.

In these situations, impression management is about keeping peace in the group and following social norms. For example, at a family event, someone might not talk much about their successes to let others shine too, keeping things fair and balanced.

Middle Eastern and African Perspectives

In several Middle Eastern and African cultures, there's a strong sense of community, tradition, and respect for elders.

Showing respect, understanding hierarchies, and following cultural traditions are essential. For example, in a community event, you might dress in traditional attire and follow specific customs. This isn't just a formality but as a sign of respect and belonging.

Latin American Perspectives

Latin American cultures value warmth, family, and lively social interactions. People focus on real connections rather than just personal success. In these cultures, building trust and shared experiences are important. Thus, there are less intentional impression management strategies.


It's key to understand these cultural differences in today's global world. Whether traveling or working with people from different backgrounds, it helps to know how they manage impressions. While the main idea stays the same, the way it's shown can change based on culture.

Think of impression management as a chameleon that changes colors based on where it is. It helps you fit in and connect with different people around the world.

Impression Management Strategies

Whether you're stepping into a job interview, meeting someone new, or crafting that perfect social media post, knowing how to make a lasting impression is super important.

But remember, it's not about putting on a show—it's about presenting your best self. Here are some practical tips and strategies to guide you on this journey of strategic self presentation.

Self-Awareness is Key

Start by understanding yourself. What are your strengths, weaknesses, values, and aspirations?

Observe and Listen

Before jumping into interactions, take a moment to observe. Understand the the cultural nuances and the expectations of a situation. Listening actively can give you clues about how best to approach a conversation or social interaction.


While staying true to yourself is essential, adaptability is equally important. Adjusting your behavior based on the context doesn't mean being inauthentic; it means being responsive to different social settings.

Clear Communication

Whether in person or online, clear and effective communication is fundamental. Be direct but respectful, ensuring your message gets across without any misunderstandings.

Be Genuine

People can usually sense when you are acting fake. So, while you might be managing impressions, make sure you're being sincere. Genuine compliments, active listening, and showing real interest can go a long way.

Consistency Across Platforms

If you're active on various social media platforms, try to maintain consistency in your online persona. While each platform might have its own tone and content type, the underlying essence should remain consistent.

Continuous Learning

Impression management is an evolving skill. Regularly seek feedback, reflect on interactions, and be open to changing your approach. Courses, books, and even personal experiences can be great teachers.

Know When to Step Back

While managing impressions is valuable, there are times when it's best to step back and just be you. Recognize those moments, whether it's unwinding with close friends or spending quiet moments alone.

Use Technology Wisely

In the digital age, tools like filters, editing apps, and even virtual backgrounds can aid in impression management. Use them carefully. Make sure they help rather than hide the real you.

Reflect Often

Set aside time to reflect on your interactions. Did you feel authentic? Were there moments of discomfort? Reflecting can provide insights and guide future engagements.

Impression Management in the 21st Century

Impression management, just like any other human interaction, isn't static. It evolves, shaped by technology, societal shifts, and new cultural dynamics.

Let's explore the potential future trends of impression management strategies and how they might reshape the way we manage impressions.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

VR and AR will change how we interact. Imagine joining a global meeting from home. Your online look could be about your chosen avatar and the virtual space you're in.

Valuing Realness

More people, especially the young, are valuing being real over being perfect. This means being yourself might become more important than putting on a show.

Use of AI

Future social media could use AI to show us how others see us, helping us adjust our online image based on feedback.

Mixing Cultures

With the world getting closer, ways of managing impressions from different cultures might mix. Adapting to global views will be essential.

Online Privacy

People are becoming more privacy-aware. This might mean we interact in smaller, private online spaces more than big public ones.

Brain Science

Learning more about the brain might help us understand how we form views of others. This could shape how we try to make impressions.

Blending Work and Personal Life

With more remote work, the line between work and personal life is fading. This could mean we have to be good at switching roles often.

Eco-friendly Images

Caring for the planet is big. Our image might be tied to our eco-friendly choices, like the clothes we wear or the things we buy.

Personal Branding Throughout Life

Showing our journey, from achievements to daily life, might become common, not just for work but for our whole life.

Mindful Interactions

Being mindful is becoming popular. This could mean our interactions become more thoughtful and less planned.

The future of impression management will mix tech, society's values, and personal goals. Even though it's changing, the heart of it is still about making and understanding impressions. It's about keeping it real while adapting to the changing world.

Future research will shed light on how impression construction changes over time. Sociological research doesn't usually include laboratory research, but a literature review that includes both psychological bulletins and looking at self presentation on social media will help us understand impression management techniques.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Impression Management

1. What is impression management?

It's how people try to shape what others think of them, either to look good or fit in. In other words, it's about how we make sure others have the desired impression of us.

2. Who came up with impression management theory?

Erving Goffman did important studies on this, especially in his work "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life."

3. How do we see impression management daily?

It's in things like our social media posts, the clothes we wear, or how we talk in different situations. Basically, it's in all human behavior.

4. Any negative consequences to impression management techniques?

Yes, focusing on it too much can make you feel fake, tired, misunderstood, or too dependent on others' opinions.

5. How has technology changed impression management strategies?

With things like social media, we now manage impressions not just in person, but also online.

6. Does culture impact impression management theory?

Yes. Different cultures have their own ways of managing impressions based on their values and norms.

7. Any tips for good self presentation, or impression management tactics?

Know yourself, pay attention, adjust to situations, speak clearly, and be genuine. Also, maintaining self control is important.

8. How might impression management change in the future?

New tech like VR and AI, plus changing values about being real and making good choices, will shape it.

9. Why should we care about impression management theory?

It helps us build strong relationships, do well in jobs, and feel good about ourselves.

10. Is impression management just pretending?

No, it's about showing the right side of you for the situation, not being fake.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, October). Impression Management (Definition + Tips). Retrieved from

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