Impression Management: Tactics for “Looking Good” to Others






The desire to make a favorable impression on others is a strong one, so most of us do our best to “look good” to others when we meet them for the first time. Social psychologists use the term impression management (or self-presentation) to describe these efforts to make a good impression on others, and the results of their research on this process suggest that it is well worth the effort: People who perform impression management successfully do often gain important advantages in many situations. What tactics do people use to create favorable impressions on others? Which work best? And is impression management related to subsequent behavior in social or work situations?



While individuals use many different techniques for boosting their image, most of these fall into two major categories: self-enhancement—efforts to increase their appeal to others—and other-enhancement—efforts to make the target person feel good in various ways. With respect to self-enhancement, specific strategies include efforts to boost one’s appearance—either physical or professional. Physical appearance relates to the attractiveness and physical appeal of the individual, while professional appearance relates to personal grooming, appropriate dress, and personal hygiene. The existence of huge beauty aids and clothing industries suggests ways in which people attempt to improve both aspects of their appearance. Additional tactics of self-enhancement involving efforts to appear competent and accomplished through such steps as describing past achievements, describing positive qualities one possesses (“I’m very easygoing,” “I’m organized and get things done on time”), taking responsibility for positive events in one’s life that occurred in the past (“I graduated early because I really worked hard . . .”), or explaining how they (the person engaging in impression management) overcame daunting obstacles. Several of these tactics are readily visible in online dating services (e.g., and in information people post about themselves on Facebook or other social networks, where people attempt to “look good” to others (potential romantic partners, old friends and new ones).


Another major group of impression management tactics are known as other-enhancement. In these strategies, individuals basically seek to induce positive moods and reactions in others through the use of a variety of tactics. Perhaps the most commonly used tactic of this type is ingratiation—flattering others in various ways. Additional tactics of other-enhancement involve expressing agreement with the target person’s views, showing a high degree of interest in this person, doing small favors for them, asking for their advice and feedback in some manner, or expressing liking for them nonverbally (e.g., through high levels of eye contact, nodding in agreement, and smiling).


Does Impression Management Work? Does It Really Boost Impressions of the People Using It?

That individuals often employ such tactics is obvious: You can probably recall many instances in which you either used, or were the target of, such strategies. A key question, however, is this: Do they work? Do these tactics of impression management succeed in generating positive feelings and reactions on the part of the people toward whom they are directed? The answer provided by a growing body of literature is clear: yes, provided they are used with skill and care, but the use of these tactics also involves potential pitfalls: If they are overused, or used ineffectively, they can backfire and produce negative rather than positive reactions from others. For instance, it has been reported that the use of too many different tactics of impression management (especially, too much flattery of others), can lead to suspicion and mistrust rather than increased liking and higher evaluations. The moral of these findings is clear: While tactics of impression management often succeed, this is not always the case, and sometimes they can boomerang, adversely affecting reactions to the people who use them.



So far, we have assumed that people engage in impression management for one straightforward reason: to enhance others’ reactions to them. This is certainly the primary reason for such behavior. But research findings indicate that there many others, too. For instance, efforts at impression management (often termed self-presentation) may serve to boost the moods of people who engage in it. This might be the case because efforts to appear cheerful, happy, and pleasant might—through the kind of mechanisms suggested by the facial feedback hypothesis—generate actual increases in such feelings. In other words, by attempting to appear happy and positive, people may actually encourage such feelings. Almost everyone has had the experience of feeling happier and more positive after special efforts to enhance their own appearance (e.g., before a prom or other special event). In short, although we generally engage in impression management in order to increase others’ evaluations of us, there may be some extra benefits to such tactics for the people who use them: Attempting to “look good” to others can often make us feel better in very basic ways.

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