Devotional, “Impression Management: What My Things Say about Me,” by Donna Elkins

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Impression Management: What My Things Say about Me

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.   Ecclesiastes 2:4–6 (NIV)        

Two examples recently inspired me to think about how we choose the items we surround ourselves with.

The first example: I was moving into my work office twice within six months. Facing the piles of boxes, books, and binders, I was determined to cull my academic possessions. I tried to think like a professional organizing consultant about which of these items truly brought me joy.  That did not get me very far. But why?

The items I carried through the 20 years of my professional life were less about joy than need.  Still, I did find reason to send mounds of paperwork and a few old books to the recycling shredder. I wondered, “why did I keep these items with me for years”? When I looked at the growing mound to be shredded, I realized I kept them as outward tangible evidence to myself and others of my academic attainment and how hard I worked.

The second example was during a video call with a female entrepreneur. In the background of her screen was a lovely office with the name of her company on a tasteful wall sign, a glass enclosed side conference room, and chic white walls. I commented on how nice her space looked and she laughed. She admitted that she had hired an artist to create this convincing background for her so it would look like a “real office” rather than the typical fake background.

In a review of multiple studies, researchers found that our impression management—that is, the behaviors and objects we use to present a certain self to the world—extends to more than just the way we talk or the clothes we wear.[1] The physical items, personal belongings, awards, vehicles, gardens, trees, and other things we surround ourselves with all of these speak to how we want others to see us . . .  and how we see ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with putting forward a good impression or accumulating pleasing things around you, but James (2:2–4) warns us clearly not to let the physical setting and items around a person influence our thoughts or actions toward them.  Hopefully, you will stop to think about the impression you are trying to communicate with the objects around you and also how easily you are influenced by others’ impression management efforts.

Reflection:  What items and artifacts do you use to manage others’ impressions of you?  How much are you swayed in your opinions about others by the objects with which they surround themselves?

Today’s ChallengeLook at the space where you spend the most time every day. Do a quick assessment to describe what this setting communicates about you and consider if there are changes you may want to make.

Donna M. Elkins, Spalding University


[1] Metts, S., & Grohskopf, E. (2002).  Impression management: Goals, strategies, and skills. In B. Burleson & J.O. Greene (Eds.), Handbook of communication and social interaction skills (pp. 357-399).  Erlbaum.


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