Are You Managing Impressions?

MasksScottChanFreeDigitalPhotosnetHow are you presenting yourself to others? What impression are you making? Sociologist Erving Goffman developed the social role theory, which states that we manage other people’s impressions of us by how we present ourselves to them. In his 1959 groundbreaking book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman says that as we manage other people’s impressions of us (he coined the phrase impression management), we assume and play many roles, much like actors on stage.

Impression management is defined as “a person altering or changing his/her self-presentation to create appearances to satisfy particular audiences.” Goffman says that people are the actors “performing” on a stage, using a variety of props if they choose to use them, and that they can perform for an audience or just for themselves. The essence of impression management theory is that we all play various roles in our lives. We often play several different roles throughout each day.

Roles have certain clothing and accessories that accompany them. Think of the costumes actors wear as they perform. Some roles are more closely aligned to who we are underneath it all, and other roles are a far stretch from who we truly are. It’s why we often buy a new suit to wear to an important client presentation; we want to embrace the role of a successful business executive. Goffman also says that impression management can either “hide negative attributes or enhance a person’s status” or “increase or decrease a person’s position of status.” For instance, your role as spouse is very different from your role as supervisor at work. You may manage impressions less at home than at work because you have the freedom to be your true self at home. The roles that we play require us to wear masks. Behind the mask is our real identity. With roles come expectations. As a supervisor, for example, there are certain expectations that come with that role. For instance, it is expected that the supervisor will oversee the work of direct reports, will keep in constant contact with them to measure their progress, and will offer guidance when needed.

It is important for us to understand impression management because we assume so many different roles — business professional, volunteer, community leader, friend, spouse, committee member or neighbor — and so do the people around us. Some many people manage their impressions so tightly that they become something other than who they truly are inside. When managing impressions, remember to be your authentic self. How are you presenting yourself? How are you managing impressions?

Image courtesy of Scott Chan,

Observe and Learn

msnbc_cnn_logoNationally televised news media provides the ultimate positioning platform for any professional. When you accept an interview with CNN, MSNBC or NBC, you need to be fully prepared. When you are not, it can position you in a negative light. Think Sarah Palin. When she came onto the national media scene, her folksy Alaskan style was considered “refreshing” to some viewers, yet to others, it revealed a woman who was not yet ready for prime time. Her credibility was compromised. For late night television hosts, Palin’s antics provided an unending supply of material for parodies and comedy sketches.

On Monday night, Anderson Cooper, host of CNN’s AC 360, interviewed Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer about her accusation that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office used disaster relief funds to influence political favor. It was obvious that Zimmer is more experienced talking with local media from Hoboken than she is sitting front and center on the national media stage. She provided a teaching moment for anyone who aspires to be on national television. Observe and learn from situations like this. Here are a few teaching moments:

1. Know your key messages. Every media interview offers an opportunity to share your key messages. What are they? Are you clearly stating those messages to the audience?

2. Control your hands. It’s appropriate to support key messages with hand gestures. However, when your hands are flailing about, almost uncontrollably and repeatedly as you answer questions, you look like you’re unprepared and making it up on the fly.

3. Compose your thoughts before you speak. Zimmer started to say that she didn’t know who the head of the Dem…then stopped herself. We know she’s a Democrat. We know what she was about to say. We, the viewers, could finish that sentence. Oh my. By volunteering that partial information, she was dismantling her credibility as a Democratic leader.

4. Think before you speak. This is different from Number 3 above because it goes back to the source, the very beginning, the choice that Zimmer made before she stated her case and went public. This is ultimate power positioning at play. In the beginning, before anything is said publicly, ask several important questions: “What am I going to say?” “Why am I saying it?” “What are the consequences of saying this?” “Am I fully prepared to face the national media?”

The entire story is still unfolding and will continue to do so for weeks and months to come. Whenever breaking news happens, turn on the national televised media, sit back, observe what’s happening, take a few notes and ask, “How would I handle this?” Observe and learn.

How Do People Introduce You?

WordBalloonsWhen was the last time you listened – really listened – to the way people introduce you to others? If you haven’t, then it’s time for you to pay attention. When you see yourself through other people’s eyes, you just may discover something new.

What words to people use to describe you? How do they differentiate you from other persons? Part of my signature style is my favorite perfume, Tea Rose, a light floral fragrance that smells like – you guessed it – fresh roses. Imagine my surprise when one of my colleagues introduced me to a friend of hers by saying, “Christine always smells like flowers.” In truth, if I had to smell like something, a flower is it.

Listen for the word always. People will usually say something like, “Carol is always entertaining us with her hilarious stories” or “Bob is always the life of the party” or “John is always traveling to such interesting places” or “Pat is always reading such interesting books.” There are things about you that even you may not see or hear. Listen to the words that people use to describe you and rediscover your unique personal style.

Discipline Delivers A Voice

Viking Opera SingerOne year ago this month, I began this new journey called blogging. Prior to that, the word only was captured as an item on my rather large to do list. What brought it to life was discipline. Each week, I have written on a topic that is relevant to today’s professional. I’m still at it today.

Before I began the process, I engaged in a healthy debate with myself, asking questions like, “What are you going to say?” or “What do you have to say that’s different from everyone else?” The answer: Plenty.

During a conversation with my husband a few years ago, he asked the really big question: “What do you really want to do with your life?” I revealed a deep desire by responding, “I want my voice to be heard.” I didn’t know at that time exactly what those words meant. I also didn’t know that blogging would be a way for me to share my voice with the world.

We all have a voice inside of us that wants to be heard. A voice that is different from everyone else’s. A voice that is unique only to us. Our own voice. When we share our voice, we speak from the heart. Our voice can allow others to see our perspective, understand how we feel or open up the conversation. Our voice can be soft and gentle or loud and clear. Our voice can advocate for others or set ourselves free. Our voice can create positive change.

You have a voice. What is it that your voice wants to say? If you were to share your voice, what positive change could occur?

Image by Strauss/Curtis/CORBIS

Is Humility Hip?

UnknownWith the recent announcement that Pope Francis was honored by Time Magazine as its Person of the Year, it begs the question, Is humility hip?

I doubt that the average person today ponders the meaning of the word humility much, let alone embraces its virtues. Society is more likely to reward materialism, greed, vanity and pride. How refreshing to know that there are still some people in the world today who not only value humility…they live it. The pontiff’s practicing humility demonstrates his concern for the greater good rather than living the good life himself.

Humility is defined as: The state or quality of being humble. Humble is defined as: Having or showing a consciousness of one’s shortcomings; lowly; unpretentious; to lower in condition or rank; to lower in pride; make modest. (Reference: Webster’s New World Dictionary).

Consider how different the world would be if leaders practiced humility. For one thing, they would admit their flaws, their mistakes, their humanity. They would practice transparent communication and eliminate hidden agendas. They would lead by example. They would think of others first. Rather than tell us how great they are, they would recognize and reward greatness in everyone. As a result, we could come together on common ground and work in the spirit of collaboration and cooperation. It would be like a breath of fresh air.

I, for one, support the notion that humility is hip. It would be grand to live in a world where humility is king (or Pope). It begins with self-reflection and one question: How am I practicing humility in my life?