All of us behave at least somewhat differently in social situations than we do in private, but psychologists have found that some people try extra hard to convey a positive image of themselves to others.
Is a strong need to manage others’ impressions a help or a hindrance in social situations such as negotiation? According to one school of thought, people who score high in impression management have a strong need for approval that could lead them to be defensive or manipulative.
But other researchers have theorized that those who try hardest to manage impressions have better negotiation skills and high levels of self-control that predispose them to be emotionally stable, disciplined, and friendly.
To try to resolve the debate, researcher Liad Uziel of Bar-Ilan University had study participants engage in tasks that required both creativity and concentration, such as writing a story based on a picture, either in the presence of an observer or while alone in a room.
Participants who scored high on impression management were more creative and persistent when an observer was present than when they were alone. Rather than choking, these participants rose to the occasion.
You might naturally be wary of a negotiator who seems especially eager to please. But Uziel’s research offers early evidence that such individuals thrive at creative tasks while being monitored, thus making them potentially excellent negotiating counterparts.
Adapted from “Dealing with People Pleasers,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, March 2011.