THE BEANBAG PSYCHOLOGIST 22
Handshake And A Half!
Any social situation can cause a certain amount of nervous energy in most of us, but none more so than the highly uncertain “first meetings”! In an age when self-presentation is a key priority in interactions, it becomes even more important for us to strike the right first impressions on a stranger. What truly goes into our attempts at making favourable impressions on others?
There are two main tactics we employ to build a positive social image of ourselves. One is the rather obvious tactic of “self-enhancement” that involves looking our best to constructing positive self-descriptions of ourselves to making use of appropriate “props” such as putting on a cool pair of glasses to appear well-read and so on. Good social skills have been shown to be very good predictors of promotion at the workplace by many research studies.
The second tactic we often use is “other-enhancement”. This involves inducing positive moods and states of mind in other people through lively conversations and pleasant interactions, showing genuine interest in others’ ideas and opinions, and even performing small favours for them. People also hope to create a good image by offering flattery, praise and agreeing excessively to the opinions of the other, particularly when they are perceived to be superior to oneself.
The chances of this tactic backfiring are quite high when executed without tact, in which case the person gains a highly negative evaluation as opposed to creating a positive impression! This effect was described by Roos Vonk as the ‘slime effect’. One will do well to avoid such overly ingratiating behaviours being as the term doesn’t really ooze with appeal!
We have a strong desire to be associated with attitudes that we perceive to be honourable. In many situations we look to further our self-image by expressing such desirable attitudes where appropriate. Understandably we also tend to hide or suppress attitudes that may not show us in the right light, such as our prejudices.
In any attempt at self-presentation, there is always the risk of failure such as when our efforts backfire or when our performances yield unfavourable outcomes. Imagine talking to a teacher you really admire about the time you lost out in an important tournament. You may attempt to manage the possible embarrassment by explaining them away as caused by uncontrollable external factors and downplaying the effect of personal factors.
Impression management can be a little challenging for people who find social situations uncomfortable and distressing. But despair not, as research suggests that cognitive distractions such as activities that the person really enjoys doing and is likely to be successful at can go a long way in reducing their social anxiety and making them appear sociable and extroverted!
Striking the balance between our desire to appear in a certain way and genuinely having a good time in a social gathering is the trick to not let the pressure get to us! Social psychologists assure us that despite all the challenges and obstacles, the art of self-presentation comes quite naturally to us.
SANGEETHA MADHU & JYOTHI RAVICHANDRAN, THE HINDU IN SCHOOL