Want to influence how people perceive you? Use these impression tactics

Tactics such as excuses and apologies are used in a defensive way to avoid blame for weak performance or to seek forgiveness for a mistake

David Rigby

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Impression management is the process of influencing how others perceive you.

Tactics such as excuses and apologies are used in a defensive way to avoid blame for weak performance or to seek forgiveness for a mistake. Other tactics are used to elicit positive affect and respect from others.

Four impression management tactics that are especially relevant in leadership are:

• Exemplification,
• Ingratiation,
• Self-promotion, and
• Intimidation.


This tactic involves behaviour intended to demonstrate dedication and loyalty to the mission, to the organization, or to followers. So, you influence bosses by presenteism including arriving early and staying late to work extra hours and skipping lunch. You only need to demonstrate effective behavior when you know the person is watching. Doing voluntary tasks that are highly visible show organizational citizenship behaviors. By acting in a way that is consistent with espoused values (“walking the talk”) and making self-sacrifices to achieve a proposed objective, change, or vision can influence subordinates or peers. “I slept in the office last night – too busy to go home”


Ingratiating behavior can take many different forms. You can provide praise, agree with the target person’s opinions, show appreciation for the target’s accomplishments, laugh at the target’s jokes, show an interest in the target’s personal life, and show deference and respect for the target person. However, to be effective as an impression management tactic ingratiation must appear to be sincere, and it may be counterproductive if viewed as manipulative. This tactic involves behavior intended to influence the target person to like you and perceive you as someone who has desirable social qualities (e.g., friendly, considerate, caring, charming, interesting, attractive). “I made you lunch today – I know you are far too busy and too important to have time. And it was made with love.”


This is intended to influence favorable impressions about your competence and value to the organization. You can inform people about your achievements and talking about your skills. A more subtle form of self-promotion is to display diplomas, awards, and trophies in one’s office or workspace for others to see. The best form of self-promotion is indirect and it is to get other people to talk about your skills and loyalty. . “So that’s enough about me – over to you. What do you think of me?”


This tactic involves behavior intended to influence the target person to perceive you as a dangerous person who is able and willing to use power to harm others who fail to do what you person wants. You can arouse fear and respect for your coercive power in a variety of forms, including use of warnings that any unacceptable behaviour will be punished, making an example of someone punished for transgressions, incompetence, or disloyalty, and using punishment in a limited but highly visible way to demonstrate that you are prepared to use coercive power. As happened to me in Jeddah many years ago: “If you don’t give me that software I will have your agent shot!”

Some people do not consider intimidation relevant for impression management by leaders, because the use of fear as a motivator can be dysfunctional. However, because intimidation is used by many political and business leaders and can serve an important purpose (e.g., to deter illegal or unethical activities), it should be not be ignored.

The results for self-promotion tactics are less consistent, but they suggest that a negative reaction is more likely than a positive reaction. A subordinate who uses this tactic too often or in an annoying way will be liked less by the boss and given a lower performance appraisal Self-promotion is a more difficult form of impression management to pull off successfully. Unless done only infrequently and in a subtle way, self-promotion tactics are usually seen as bragging and conceit. Research shows that women tend to underestimate or keep quiet about their skills, hoping their results are self-evident whereas some men are expert at turning a molehill into a huge self-promotional mountain.

An outcome such as a pay increase or promotion may be based more on a subordinate’s actual job performance than on how often the subordinate uses an impression management tactic. Moreover, the effectiveness of impression management tactics depends to a great extent on your interpersonal skills and these skills are also a determinant of performance.

These four impression management tactics are things you deliberately set out to do. They are a great adjunct to – but do not replace:

• Actually Delivering
• Looking the part (i.e. dressed for it) and giving people confidence you are delivering.
• Being a Leader.

“So that’s enough about me – over to you. What do you think of me? I know you gave me your lunch but you will get shot if you are too tired to give me the right answer.”