It’s axiomatic that certain categories of employees — salespeople, customer service reps, receptionists, et al. — absolutely must know how to make a good impression on others. After all, they’re the folks who make or break the image you want customers and other outside parties to have of your organization.

But what about other employees, such as those who aren’t in constant contact with the public? Can they benefit from training in what psychologists call “impression management”? (This is defined in social psychology as a process by which people try to influence the perceptions of others, by regulating and controlling information in social interaction. In other words, trying to look good.)

Six principles to learn
Certainly they can, says Organizational Psychology professor Ronald Riggio at Claremont McKenna College. Writing in Psychology Today, Riggio lays down six principles of impression management that you can teach employees so that they’ll be more successful in all aspects of their lives, including their interactions with co-workers and managers.

Here are the six principles:

1. Self-awareness. Without a clear idea of who he or she is and what he/she stands for, a person’s efforts at impression management will ring false and contrived.

2. Carefulness. Statements and actions have consequences. People need to learn to consider them before they speak or act.

3. Emotional control. People can exploit negative emotions like anger and distaste effectively to create the impression they want, but not if these come in the form of uncontrolled outbursts.

4. “Emily Post” stuff. Observing the rules of etiquette demonstrates that the person knows how to behave appropriately in various situations.

5. Conviction. Standing up for a point, a principle or a person in the face of general disagreement fosters respect.

6. Positivity. Obviously, a smile and a positive tone create a better impression than a scowl and a growl.

Overcoming habits
Of course, none of this is easy. It’s fine to hear a trainer enunciate these principles, but practicing them, for a lot of employees, may mean going against habits built up over time.

If you’re going to try to instill better habits of self-presentation, it’ll require systematic follow-up with your trainees over a period of months. Most of them will certainly fail a few times before they succeed in internalizing these habits.

But maybe the effort is worth it anyway. That is, if you value morale and good social relationships in your workplace, and if you’re interested in developing a new generation of leaders from among your most promising people.

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