Impression Management: Considering Cultural, Social, and Spiritual Factors
According to Sinha (2009), "Impression management is an active self-presentation of a person aiming to enhance his image in the eyes of others" (p.104). A symbolic interaction theorist, Erving Goffman, coined the term impression management in 1959 and from then on, sociologists and theorists have been adding insight and importance to the concept. According to Newman (2009), impression management is an “act presenting a favorable public image of oneself so that others will form positive judgments” (p.184). Impression management is a fundamental and universal process that involves a number of influential factors. These factors are social, cultural and spiritual.
“Nobody hands values, norms, roles, and statuses to us fully formed, nor do we accept them mechanically. We mold them to suit us as we interact with others” (Brym and Lie, 2006, p.144). By molding values, norms, roles, and statuses, people can modify themselves and alter how others perceive them. It is not always clear whether or not people are aware of the allusions they create when they intentionally alter their values, norms, roles, and statuses to manufacture positive impressions. Ferrante (2008) expands on this concept in her book, Sociology: a Global Perspective, “Even if people are aware that they are manipulating reality, impression management can be a constructive feature of social interaction” (p.131). People across the globe implement this concept in order to obtain a favorable social outcome. Newman compliments this concept by assessing additional socialization implications. “Impression management plays a prominent role in the socialization process” (Newman, 2009, p.173). Impression management allows the production of manufactured personas, which aid in the socialization process. The use of impression management provides people with the necessary skills to create a custom and often falsified perception. This deceptively altered perception allows a person to construct a new, but not necessarily improved version of him or herself. This approach helps a person carefully craft relationships and by extension they have the ability to alter their position in the socialization process through impression management. The previous example illustrates how impression management can also have a number of negative implications, such as, deception and falsification of self.
There are a variety of social implications within impression management, but not all of the social implications are positive. Some of the repercussions are negative and can even be damaging to the person responsible for the implementation of impression management tactics. According to Newman (2009), “Impression management can lead to the creation of damaged identities, which must be repaired in order to sustain social interactions” (p.183). Damaged identities and suffering social interactions can take a toll on a person, which enviably forces that person to retreat to impression management once again. It may seem increasingly ironic that the tactic that aided in the damaging and exiling of a person can be the very approach that puts that person back in the social standings. Impression management is a concept to be taken very seriously. It has the power and influence to create a favorable public opinion of a particular person, it can break a person in regards to social standings, and it can repair a damaged persona. Additionally, impression management has the ability to dictate a person’s position in society.
“A person’s relative position in society can also influence impression management” (Newman, 2009, p.172). A person’s position in society and the prestige of impression management can be paramount, but it can also be considered a conniving game. According to Andersen and Taylor (2006), “Impression management can be seen as a type of con game” (p.104). When a person engages in impression management, they are attempting to manipulate the impression they project onto others. “Analyzing impression management reveals that we try to con the other into perceiving us as we want to be perceived” (Andersen and Taylor, 2006, p.104). The previous statement implies that a person has the ability to create a persona and deceive others by manipulating their perceptions. This is a concept that a variety of scholars can agree upon.
Sinha (2009) explains, “In impression management, the person being perceived manages the perception of the perceiver hoping to have a positive impact” (p.104). Many scholars concur that impression management is the key to formulating a positive impression. Scholars can also agree that in order to form positive impressions, one must first learn to manipulate the perceiver. Newman (2009) expands on this notion, “Impression management is a tool most of us use to present ourselves as likable people” (p.183). The previous examples point to and imply that impression management has a solely negative impact on the people within society. However, not all of these scholars were using these statements to represent negative aspects. Impression management can be perceived in a variety of different ways and because of that, there are many different purposes and uses related to impression management.
“People are sensitive to how they are seen by others and use many forms of impression management to compel others to react to them in the ways they wish” (Giddens, 2005, p.142). An example of this concept is easily illustrated through cultural differences. Different cultures have diverse thoughts and opinions on what is considered beautiful or attractive. For example, American’s tend to find tan skin attractive, but in Indonesian culture, pale skin is more desirable. According to Forshee (2006), “Over the past decade, the media increasingly have emphasized the beauty of white skin, through advertisements for lightening creams” (p.156). A similar instance is prevalent with hair color as well. American’s are inclined to prefer light or blonde hair while Indonesian’s generally favor darker hair colors. Whatever the combination of qualities is considered attractive may be, there are always ways to simulate them. Americans spend hours in tanning beds and spend large sums of money on spray tanning and bronzing lotions. On the other end of the spectrum, Indonesians purchase whitening lotions, body soap, and facial scrubs. This example demonstrates the importance of impression management and the great lengths people go to in order to control how people perceive them.
Another illustration of how people attempt to control how others perceive them is portrayed through the clothing they wear. A person who is in a leadership position strives to be respected and in order to control and maintain the impression; the person wears a nice suit, carries a briefcase, and acts in a professional manner. The professional clothing and the dignified manner in which the person carries him or herself, plays a large role in the impression management process. This illustration can also be adapted for a cultural scenario. The clothing people choose to wear says a great deal about the person and the culture they represent. For example, most Americans are not overly concerned with conservative clothing. Most Americans are content with tee shirts, shorts, and showing skin. The exact opposite is true on the other side of the world. “Indonesians are both modest and conservative in their attire” (Cole, 1997, p.77). Indonesians are extremely conservative and they go to great lengths to keep themselves covered. “Women’s legs customarily remain hidden under ankle length clothing” (Forshee, 2006, p.156).
In addition to keeping themselves covered, Indonesia has a number of cultural traditions that involve impression management. In Indonesia, when a principal takes a position at a different school, all of the teachers from the school he or she is leaving accompany him to the new school. This illustration is a form of impression management because in Indonesia, this practice is done out of respect and is seen as a culturally significant protocol. However, in America, a similar practice may be perceived as peculiar. In terms of impression management, this peculiar event may give off the impression that the principal is frightened to leave one school for another. If a principal left one school for another, in America, the teachers at the school he or she is leaving may throw the principal a goodbye party, but they certainly would not travel with the principal to his or her new school.
Impression management can also be exemplified through spiritual implications. Just as people desire to fit in with their social and cultural groups, people aspire to fit in with their spiritual groups as well. This concept can be demonstrated through the process of altering one’s personality and actions in order to be accepted by a spiritual group. Browning explains how he acted differently at church than he did anywhere else. He explained how he would wear different clothing, listen to other types of music, and even alter his topics of conversation. “Around the “church people” we would act differently – more upright, more spiritual, we would act nicer than we really were. It was classic impression management” (Browning, 2009, p.94). Browning’s example was given from a Christian point of view, suggesting that impression management plays a role in Christianity. Christianity and genuine Christianity are not always the same concept. Browning’s experience was a prime example of Christian impression management, while a devout Christian who has devoted his or her life to Christ is a genuine Christian. From a Christian perspective this distinction and the idea of impression management could potentially be frowned upon. It is for that reason that Christians try to involve a church or a community’s youth in functions and activities supported by Christian churches. By doing this, Christians believe that the youth will learn of Christ’s greatness and grow into a genuine Christian. Despite the Christian churches’ attempt to draw young, impressionable Christians into the church, Browning’s experience with impression management is increasingly common. Today, more and more people are trying to prove that they are better and more spiritual than their neighbors. People can be so desperate to be accepted spiritually, that they are willing to create an alternate and more spiritual persona. This persona could eventually become who the person really is and aid in the process of becoming one with Christ. However, it could also be an elaborate charade intended to fool the “church people” in their lives. This method of self-presentation is not productive or even profitable in the end.
Impression management is a self-presentation technique that focuses on improving a person’s image in the eyes of others. Ever since Erving Goffman implemented the term impression management in 1959, sociologists and theorists have been studying additional aspects of the concept. Impression management presents constructive and favorable images to the public, encouraging a positive outcome. Impression management is a common underlying process that involves social and cultural implications. In regard to the social implications, impression management allows people to carefully craft and construct their public perception. In some cases, in order to obtain a favorable public or social appearance, a person must alter and falsify their persona. The social implications of impression management are not always negative, but there is a fine line between the positive and negative aspects. Impression management in relation to culture has a far more positive outcome. The cultural implications of impression management define the significance of cultural traditions, norms, and ways of life. The color of skin and hair, as well as, the clothing people choose to wear, are all apart of the impression management process. The spiritual implications involve both the social and the cultural implications in order to fully complete the impression management process. The social, cultural, and spiritual implications vary from person to person and from culture to culture, but most importantly, they are all deeply rooted in impression management.
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