Human beings are social animals, and the impressions we make on others can critically impact the quality of our lives. Consequently, we exert a good deal of time and effort, both consciously and unconsciously, to shape other people’s ideas about who we are.
People form impressions of us-who we are and what we’re like-very quickly and, right or wrong, those impressions can determine significant aspects of our goals, how we interact with other people, and our intimate relationships. In a few short minutes, people assess our personality, interests, attitudes, and mood, taking into account everything from the content of our words to the style of our clothing, and much more. Sometimes, their assessments are accurate, other times less so, but the impressions others form of us significantly impact how they treat us and, therefore, our outcomes in life.
In Your Public Persona: Self-Presentation in Everyday Life, a 12-lecture course by Professor Mark Leary, Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, you will explore the variety of ways we manage our impressions. In this compelling course, you will learn about the behaviors we employ to control the impressions other people form of us-at work, at home, and in the world at large. We learn early and often-from parents, friends, classmates, and strangers-that, as Professor Leary says, ‘…how we fare in life depends, at least to an extent, on how other people view us.’
As you will learn, we try to manage the impressions that others have of us in order to pursue and achieve a wide range of goals-from getting a job or that coveted leadership role, to having a second date with someone or strengthening an important friendship, to being successful at work. You will come to better understand how we use self-presentational tactics, and why we may even present ourselves negatively-as aggressive or incompetent or ill-if such impressions serve our larger objectives. And we don’t just self-present occasionally. As Professor Leary explains, all of us do it on an ongoing basis. It is little wonder that, with so much on the line, impression management is a critically important aspect of human behavior.
Public Personas and Private Identities
Some people believe that managing the way we appear to others is inherently duplicitous or dishonest, and instead we should just ‘be ourselves.’ But, many times, we are trying only to make certain that those we interact with know about aspects of ourselves that might not be immediately apparent, yet are significant to understanding who we are. As Professor Leary explains, it is possible to be both tactical and honest in how we present ourselves. Making certain that your boss (or your spouse) knows that you are working hard doesn’t mean that you aren’t; it just means that you understand the importance of his or her impression of you.
As Professor Leary describes, how we manage impressions is largely determined by two sets of factors: external circumstance and internal psychology. Although we do not all engage in impression management in the same ways-either because circumstances are unique or because we are-everyone tends to use the same general approaches. Rather than being a sign of dishonesty or vanity, self-presentation is a normal, natural behavior that is essential to our well-being.
Disasters, Dilemmas, and the Dangers of Self-Presentation
We all engage in self-presentation, but what happens when our efforts fail? Have you ever tripped over your own feet, or blurted out something terribly inappropriate, or spilled your drink, or otherwise embarrassed yourself? Everyone has. Most of us have also experienced a secret being revealed, friends or partners behaving badly, and even intentional humiliation at the hands of a bully.
The embarrassment of self-presentation gone wrong is very real. Although most of the bad impressions we make are easily remedied, what can we d