YOU’VE GOT THE POWER: Your Employees Don’t Act Always Like Themselves With You

Quick question: Have you ever modified your behavior based on who you were with?

Of course you have. One of the many lessons you learned as a kid was that certain situations and people call for a certain set of manners and behaviors. You learned that the way that you spoke with close friends wasn’t necessarily the same way to speak with a teacher or parent. You also learned that if you couldn’t wear your play clothes to church.

In academic terms, you learned how to impression manage which involves monitoring and modifying your behavior to give a particular impression to the world around you. And it’s completely normal and functional, and low to moderate levels. At really high levels of impression management, you get some less flattering and more maladaptive behaviors, but it’s something we’re all doing.

Want me to prove it?

When you got dressed today, did you at any point consider where you were going or who you’d be with? Do you care how your breath smells?

Thought so. And of course you do.

So, none of us are strangers to impression management.

Next question: Who do you think you impression manage the most around?

Anyone who controls or has influence over something that matters to us (romantic partner, clients, bosses). In other words, anyone who has some kind of power. Specifically, anyone with the power the reward or punish, power that is administratively/officially granted, or anyone that we really admire or respect — we’re really likely to impression manage around folks that fall into one or more of those categories.

You know this intuitively: What your boss thinks about you, matters to you. Which means that you monitor and modify your behavior (impression manage) so that your boss views you favorably.

Let’s flip the script.

If you’re a manager of people, you’ve got the power. You have considerable influence over things that matter to your employees, so they’re very likely to impression manage around you.

Said another way — by virtue of your position, your employees don’t always act like themselves around you.  That doesn’t make them two-faced. It doesn’t make them manipulative. It makes them normal.

Managers: here’s some food for thought this week:

1. How often do you think your direct reports change their behavior based on their perception of your power?

2. Does their perception of your power impact performance? Is it good? Bad? Neither?


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