Everyone stands in front of the mirror sometimes. You may think that the way you see yourself is the way others see me too. But that’s not always true. Others have an image of you that is partly based on physical appearance, but also largely depends on what people know about you and how they think of you. Fortunately, that doesn’t just depend on the other person or the weather. You can also ‘determine’ how others see you by presenting yourself in a certain way. This is self- presentation, the subject of this article. Why do we present ourselves, and how do we do that?

Self-presentation in a nutshell

Self-presentation – also called impression management – is the process by which we as individuals try to control what others think of us. This often happens unconsciously, we hardly notice that we behave in order to appear in a positive light to others. Roughly speaking, social psychology distinguishes three ways of self-presentation: 1) being liked, 2) appearing competent and 3) radiating power and status. But why would people do this in the first place?

Why do we self-present?

First, we do it because we want something from others. We must convince others to share with us. After all, if they decide not to share with us, where are we? This convincing of the other can happen in the three ways mentioned above, let’s explain this using the sharing of bread. For example, you can build a good relationship with someone (be liked) so that that person shares with you out of love. He gives you part of his bread as a sign of friendship. You can also make the other person believe that you know better what to do with a certain asset than he/she does (seem competent), and hand it over to you. The other person thinks that you can make a much tastier sandwich than he can, and gives you the piece of bread for further processing. Finally, you can make yourself seem so powerful that the other person decides that it is safe/better to just listen to you and pass on their good. You order the other and he quickly hands his piece of bread to you.

A second reason for presenting yourself to others is for the purpose of constructing your own self-image. Everyone has an idea of themselves. You often see yourself as generous, or smart, or perhaps beautiful, handsome, or (usually) a combination of many of these words. Such a self-image, however, is strongest when it is confirmed by others. If you see yourself as a funny person, but no one laughs, you will (hopefully) doubt yourself at some point. By presenting yourself as funny and presenting yourself that way to others, you have a better chance of being confirmed in your own self-image. In addition to this confirmation from others, many psychologists believe that it is also beneficial for your self-image to simply do the actions that match your image. If you see yourself as generous, then doing generous things (donating to charity) is enough to confirm your self-image, whether you receive feedback from others or not.

Third , a consistent self-presentation (a presentation that is the same every time) is also conducive to social interaction with others. When you always adopt the same role and presentation, people know what they can expect from you. They don’t have to act carefully and fish for what you think or what you are like, no, they already know your presented character and can respond immediately. You do the same to them. Consider, for example, the roles of doctor and patient. You automatically assume that the doctor will give you advice, and that you will accept it. The doctor has status and (a certain form of) power. If you did not accept this, an interaction with the doctor would be much more difficult. The good man/woman should then have to prove to you again and again that he has expertise or is competent. The waiting room would be overflowing in no time!

How can you present yourself?

As mentioned above, three ways of self-presentation are usually distinguished. I will discuss this further in the articles below.

X) Being liked: When people like you, many social interactions go more smoothly. People are willing to do things for you, and vice versa. Short and sweet, you are liked if you:

  • 1) expresses that you like others,
  • 2) you are very similar to others (or pretend to be very similar to others),
  • 3) you are or make yourself physically attractive and
  • 4) shows your modesty.
  1. X) Appearing competent: In addition to being liked, it is also important that you are seen as capable and competent to do things. The power of an expert is strong today, just think of the frequent advertisements that dentists show how great brand X toothpaste is. Large multinationals would not invest tons of money in these advertisements if it were not a powerful medium to convince people.
    But how can you, as an individual, radiate power? You can do this by:
  • 1) express your competence in real situations,
  • 2) verbally stating your competence (careful with this!)
  • 3) use ‘signs of competence’ and
  • 4) making excuses when you couldn’t do something.
  1. X) showing power and status: If people don’t like you or you can still convince them of your power, in order to get things done. No one likes a dictator, and perhaps not competent, but if he/she is powerful, everyone listens to him/her. Show of power can be done by:
  • 1) show signs of power, such as the 5 forms of power discussed by psychologists French and Raven,
  • 2) spend money wholeheartedly on expensive things,
  • 3) associate yourself with important people and
  • 4) show non-verbal signs of dominance.


read more

  • Power of an expert/professional
  • French and Raven’s five forms of power
  • Status and power – how do you get it?
  • Conflict styles


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