Self-presentation & impression management
Since all of us are social creatures, explicit behaviors such as the way we talk and behave might form enduring impressions about us on the other people, influencing their thoughts and feelings about us, and subsequently their impressions and behaviors towards us.
During social interaction, we may consciously or sub-consciously control our own behaviors to portray a certain image to others and try to manipulate their impression towards us. This deliberate control of our public behavior to create a certain impression in other people is called self-presentation and also impression management, since we “present” the self to others, in order to “manage” their impression on us.
However, we do not have to constantly monitor our behaviors and try to make impressions upon others, sometimes we behave in spontaneous, open and unrestrained fashion, especially when we are on our own. Therefore, most sociologists and social psychologists believe that we are selective actors, who adopt deliberate guises to achieve particular goals when the situation calls for it.
While the most prominent and prevailing self-presentation goals are to appear likable and competent to those around them, people might strive to appear dangerous or strong at times, to intimidate others, or moral and virtuous, to impress people in different situations. These self-presentation goals have important survival values for us, as we seek to increase our self-esteem and to protect ourselves. However, does self-presentation goals that devaluate one’s capability, ambitions and lower one’s self-esteem have any implication on the survival values of our kind?
To illustrate my point, I have adapted a chapter as an example from the famous Chinese novel: Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In this particular chapter, Liu Bei, a general in that era, was officially recognized by Emperor Xian as one of his distant relatives, thus raising his political power and status in the capital. Fearing that his rise in power might rouse the suspicion of the fearsome Premier Cao Cao, he avoided taking part in any political meetings and discussions in the government, choosing instead to remain at home, tending to his plants and agriculture. The objective of such action was to manage and give the impression that Liu Bei lacked ambition and was satisfied with his current lifestyle. When Cao Cao visited him, Liu Bei lowered his pride and denied himself of any capability to lead a rebellion against the Premier’s power, and pretended to be timid as he claimed that he was afraid of the thunder that resonated across the rainy sky that day. As a result, his life was spared that day as he successfully avoided Cao Cao’s suspicion by devaluating his capabilities, showing his incompetence and presenting himself as humble and timid, rather than giving the impression that he is ambitious and strong.
This story have indeed shown that not only raising our self-esteem and appearing likable and competent would help us, we can also protect ourselves by lowering our self-esteem, appearing incompetent and timid as opposed to giving the impression of being strong and dangerous to intimidate others. Therefore, although we virtually always want to be seen as competent, motivated and intelligent, sometimes taking a step back and “act blur” a bit can be advantageous to ourselves. Nevertheless, we are still managing other’s impression of ourselves by deliberately presenting and controlling our behaviors when interacting with them.