What is impression management?

5 minute read

What is impression management?

Impression management is the process by which people attempt to control how they are perceived by others. This can be either conscious or subconscious and involves highlighting positive aspects while downplaying negative ones.

Whether you realize it or not, impression management plays a huge role in personal branding, business success, and everyday life. After all, we all want to be well-liked and successful don’t we?

The impressions you create can have a major impact on how well your next product launch is received, whether or not you can secure investment funding for your business, or if you’ll impress the recruiter at your next job interview.

Impression management is a delicate process that must be managed thoughtfully and carefully, and while there are many tactics that can be used to impact the impressions people form of you or your brand, there can be negative effects if things are not handled correctly.

This blog will aim to cover what impression management is, exactly, why it’s important, and techniques for impression management.


What is impression management infographic

What is impression management?

Impression management is the effort to control or influence how people perceive you, your brand, or your products. It serves as a means to achieve your goals, whatever those may be. 

For example, if your business produces soda, one of your goals is probably to increase sales. So when you’re marketing your product you will likely focus on the positive attributes of the soda (the refreshing taste, the caffeine boost, or the cool-factor of having them at parties) and shy away from the negative aspects of it (they’re full of harmful additives and sugars, they ruin your teeth, and they can make you gain weight). 

Likewise, if you are meeting with a prospective employer, you’re going to want to make a good impression by dressing your best, highlighting your best personality traits, and providing memorable talking points. You probably wouldn’t show up in sweatpants and talk about your kleptomania tendencies. 

In both scenarios, impression management plays a key role in shaping the opinions that other people form about you. Because of this, it can be a useful tactic in improving your online reputation. Impression management can be used to improve:

  • Public opinion on your brand, services, leadership, etc.
  • Negotiation skills
  • Social influence
  • Relationships
  • Emotional experiences

Why is impression management important?

Impressions count, and that fact reflects the importance of impression management. Impressions count so much that our brains are making thousands of computations within seconds of meeting someone new. We’re assessing and judging them on how they dress, their body language, and if they seem trustworthy, confident, or approachable. The list goes on. Once someone forms an opinion on you or your brand, it can be difficult to reshape. That is why it’s important to always put your best foot forward. 

The same is true online. Within seconds of Googling your company, someone can already determine if they trust you or not - they may not even consciously know they've already done so. You’ll want to do your best to put your best foot forward online, too. This can mean cleaning up your reviews and ratings, removing negative search results, and creating more positive content. Even just one negative review is usually enough to change someone’s mind about doing business with you. 

While controlling someone else’s opinion is virtually impossible, impression management gives us an opportunity to present ourselves in a way that may be more likely to evoke a positive opinion from others. 

As important as impression management is, it’s also not a good time to make any false claims. When you lie to make a good impression, the truth will often surface in some way or other, and then your reputation will suffer. It’s always best to take a good, strong reflection and make sure that you or your brand actually measures up to your claims while making any impressions. 

Impression management techniques

So with all of that in mind, here are a few impression management techniques. Consider these techniques when you’re trying to make a good impression on someone. 

  • Conformity: Agreeing with another’s opinion in order to gain their approval.
  • Excuses: Attempting to reduce the perceived impact of an event by downplaying its severity. 
  • Apologies: Admitting responsibility for an event and seeking forgiveness. 
  • Self-promotion: Highlighting your best qualities and achievements while downplaying any negatives. 
  • Flattery: Complimenting others.
  • Favors: Doing something nice for someone to gain their approval or friendship.
  • Association: Working information about people and things that you have in common with another person into a conversation to enhance or improve the relationship.  

Is impression management ethical?

Impression management techniques can be used to enhance relationships, improve your reputation, improve your overall business, and more. Knowing how and when to say the right thing is critical in both developing relationships and portraying your image in the best possible way online. 

But can impression management techniques be abused? Yes, they can. People do abuse these techniques in order to create overly-embellished or outright false impressions of themselves. Not only is that unethical, but the truth tends to find a way of surfacing one way or another, and that can be even more damaging for your reputation. 

Authenticity is key here. As long as impression management techniques are used authentically, there is little risk of failure. Here are a few ways to maintain authenticity while managing the impressions you make on others. 

  • Set aside some time for self-reflection. Identify your values, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Make sure that your values are aligned with your goals, and work on improving any weaknesses. 
  • Avoid acting out of emotion. Emotional outbursts, both negative and positive, can be seen as immature and create a negative impression.
  • Be confident. Once you’ve taken the time to reflect on what you’re going to say or do, do it with confidence. A little bit of positivity goes a long way here, too. 

Impression management is a collection of techniques used to attempt to control the opinions people form of you. Although it is impossible to control anyone else’s opinion, it can help to actively manage what you say about yourself or your brand to try to make the best possible impression.