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  1. 1. To Thine Own Self Be TrueUpstate Researchers Study Self-Presentation, Impression Management 28 GREENVILLE BUSINESS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2016
  2. 2. BY EMILY STEVENSON PHOTOGRAPHY BY AMY RANDALL PHOTOGRAPHY C ompanies that treat their employees to a big end-of-year bash might want to rethink that strategy,according to Dr. Monica McCoy,professor of psychology at Converse College. “Businesses do this to be nice and reward us, but there’s a high level of discomfort that comes from it,” says McCoy.“You hear of all the horror stories of things that go wrong at Christmas parties, and I think a lot of it is the mixing of different audiences.” MORE AUDIENCES, MORE PROBLEMS That situation, the Multiple Audience Problem, is one of many topics McCoy, along with recent graduate Brenna Byler, has researched. In short, the MAP occurs when someone is in a situation involving people from different aspects of their life, or people with differing levels of authority.At an office holiday party, for example, an employee is interacting with their spouse or partner, their colleagues, their boss and possibly subordinates – and that’s where the problem comes in. “When those audiences merge, it can be difficult to decide which way to act,” says Dr. Beth Pontari seeks to understand why people do the things they do. FEBRUARY 2016 | GREENVILLE BUSINESS MAGAZINE 29
  3. 3. McCoy.“Do you act like the ‘you’ that your spouse is used to or that your busi- ness is used to?” Across the Upstate, Dr. Beth Pontari, Furman University Associate Psychol- ogy Professor and Chair of the Psychol- ogy Department, is asking the same question. Pontari, who describes herself as a social psychologist, seeks to understand why people do the things they do. “Research has shown that people’s self-concepts are complex,” she says. “Different parts of the self come to the forefront depending on who we’re interacting with. Choosing which part of oneself to emphasize becomes complicated when various groups of acquaintances collide.” At the heart of the issue is self- presentation. Often mistaken for a devious or vain undertaking, self- presentation is merely how much we try to manage other people’s impressions of us and how aware we are of whether or not it’s working. Pontari believes that the public aspect of self doesn’t get the attention it deserves. “So much of how we define ourselves is based on how we’re received,” she says.“It depends on if we’re loved, supported, accepted.” Individuals who are high self- monitors key into feedback from people around them, such as nonverbal cues, facial expressions, and body language, to see if they’re conveying what they need to convey.A low self-monitor is more likely to ignore external cues and instead project the same persona no matter the situation. There are positives and negatives to both: high self-monitors are typically more well liked because they give the group what it wants. Low self-monitors appear more genuine, and you’re less shocked when you see one out of context because they maintain a similar personality across the different aspects of their life. One way to tell if you’re a high or low self-monitor is to imagine that you are attending a party with every single person you know. If that would be a nightmare for you, you’re probably a high self-monitor and adapt yourself to your surroundings. Low self-monitors wouldn’t mind the large party because they typically maintain their persona throughout all the aspects of their lives. It’s one reason that weddings, gradua- tions, and other major life events often become stressful and conflict-ridden. However, they don’t necessarily have to be. “You find that people mellow out how much they use any one trick to try to play to all the people in a group,” says Byler.“They’ll go between the different techniques and find a balance between what they’re used to using and how that will work with the different sorts of relationships in the group.” IN THE CORPORATE WORLD Self-presentation has enormous implications in the business world. When interacting with others, it’s important to know your audience – even if it’s wider than you’d like. “How you package the information is critical,” says Pontari.“To do that well is to acknowledge who the information is going to and what their needs are.” Depending on your ranking in the office hierarchy, your strategies might vary. Byler, in her research with McCoy, found that people higher up the power chain are more likely to use strategies like intimidation with their subordi- nates in order to command attention and respect. Conversely, individuals dealing with their bosses or supervi- sors typically employ a tactic called exemplification, where they attempt to portray themselves as a model example of their profession.Among equal level colleagues, a technique called ingratia- tion, or trying to make yourself more likeable, was more prevalent. The findings seem fairly predictable, but even so, self-presentation research comes with some surprises. “A lot of current research is focused on people attempting to ingratiate themselves to superiors, and we didn’t find that in our research,” says Byler. “Our professors were really looking to ingratiate themselves more with their colleagues.” Even when colleagues, supervisors and subordinates mix, there are ways to manage the multiple audience problem. In her research, Pontari has found that Self-presentation is at the heart of the multiple audience problem. 30 GREENVILLE BUSINESS MAGAZINE | FEBRUARY 2016
  4. 4. claiming a lack of information (saying, “I’m not sure – I need more time to think about it”) and being noncom- mittal (saying “Those are both good points”) are good ways to navigate a situation with differing viewpoints. “It’s not about changing who you are.You’re simply changing how your message is expressed,” says Pontari. “When you consider effective lead- ers, they know how to do that really well.You have to be empathetic to be successful.” AN UNLIMITED AUDIENCE There’s one place, however, that empathy is sorely lacking: the Internet. All three researchers cited a startling lack of attention to multiple audiences online. “One of the things that has become problematic with people in using social media is that it collapses the audiences you have,” says Byler.“Unless you start really understanding how important it is to limit your audience, you wind up dispersing information across a wide network of people.” Because there is no immediate tangible feedback and even people who like or comment on a social media post are physically removed from the person posting, people behave online in ways they wouldn’t dare in person. That post about last night’s drinking binge intended for friends can easily reach bosses, professors, pastors, parents, and grandparents.According to Pontari, while her students claim to use filters in their social networks, almost every one says they’ve offended someone online at some point. McCoy says she’s seen posts from students complaining about the workload in her courses. “Someone needs to figure out why people can’t remember [the multiple audiences] when they post on social media,” says McCoy.“People love that they have 500 friends, but they don’t think about all 500 when they post.” In short, even individuals who are high self-monitors in person tend to become a low self-monitor (ie, what you see is what you get) when they are interacting on social media.While all of the researchers emphasize strongly that being fake or deceptive should never be the intent, modifying your behavior to your audience(s), especially online, is crucial. “It’s not like people are totally different, but in different places people emphasize different parts of themselves,” says McCoy.“It just makes life easier if you don’t offend your audience.” Dr. Monica McCoy FEBRUARY 2016 | GREENVILLE BUSINESS MAGAZINE 31