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Impression Management: A Workplace Tactic To Fit In

Updated on July 15, 2012

If someone told you they had “different personalities,” your initial reaction might be to refer them to a psychiatrist. But, it turns out that most people have different personality facets, and they let these shine through at different times. Admit it – you act different around your best friend and your in-laws, right?

This happens in the workplace all the time, where many people use a tactic called impression management. This is an attempt to alter the perceptions of others by acting in a certain way around them. Most people intuitively do this to a certain level, but others have it down to an art form. People who are more self-monitoring are more likely to engage in impression management.

The first major impression management tactic is conforming to situational norms. This means acting in a manner dictated by the situation. For example, you might eat directly from the ice cream container when you’re at home by yourself – but if you were hosting a formal dinner party, such conduct would not be acceptable. Situational norms cover actions as well as personal appearance: while yoga pants are fine for the gym, something more professional is probably needed for work.

The second major impression management tactic is behavioral matching, which describes the act of altering your behavior to conform to or “match” that of the person you’re talking to. For example, you might be very serious and attentive around your serious and attentive boss, but might be more informal with another boss who likes to joke around.

The third impression management tactic is verbal/nonverbal consistency. Sometimes, nonverbal cues are more important than verbal cues. Someone who says “good job” with a frown is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Aligning nonverbal behaviors with the expected verbal courtesies can be especially difficult if you’re going through a rough patch, but it’s an important part of impression management.

The fourth impression management strategy is demonstrating appreciation. People love to be flattered, and offering (sincere) positive reinforcement can help create a positive impression.

The fifth and final impression management technique is self-promotion. Self-promotion can take many forms, and basically means presenting yourself in a positive manner.

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