Source of article The Jury Room - Keene Trial Consulting.

Researchers actually study the factors that go into making others see you as a jerk—and help us figure out how to avoid those behaviors. Today’s research is from an international team of researchers in the Netherlands, the US and the UK. Their work is interesting to consider from the perspective of witness preparation of the difficult witness.

According to the researchers, most of us work to manage the impressions others have of us and some of us do it quite well. Others fail miserably, however, and these researchers think that failure stems from making poor choices on which impression management strategies to adopt. Instead of choosing strategies that work well, these people choose strategies that fail and result in negative perceptions of them by others. The researchers caution to not use these strategies in your self-presentation if you want to be perceived positively. They also tell us (as if we would not already know) that people using these strategies are likely to score higher on measures of pomposity, self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement, dominance, and narcissism. And the reason narcissists fail to self-present positively?

It’s Witness Preparation Lesson 101: They fail to consider the audience’s perspective.

So here, in the order presented in the paper, are the behaviors you want to avoid if your goal is to make a good impression. From a litigation advocacy perspective, these are also bad habits you want to watch out for as you are preparing witnesses.

Hubris: The researchers refer to hubris as “self-aggrandizing displays”. We’d call it “showing off”. Observers especially disliked statements wherein the speaker claims s/he was better than others as a choice of whom to befriend. According to the researchers, these sorts of displays result in observers viewing the speaker with hostility. We’ve blogged in the past about how the “hubris penalty” is applied to Black athletes.

Humblebrag: The researchers describe the humblebrag as “irksome efforts to mask bragging in the guise of complaining or appearing humble”. It is another misguided effort to appear better than others that, we’ve also blogged about in the past. The authors give this example from Twitter: “Hair is not done, just rolled out of bed from a nap, and still get hit on, so confusing!” This sort of comment results in the observers perceiving insincerity.

Hypocrisy: The third failing strategy the researchers discuss is hypocrisy. They describe this as attempts by the speaker to transmit a certain image verbally while their behavior does not live up to those standards. As long as the behavior that contradicts their verbiage remains hidden, they may get away with it. However, if the “discrepant behavior” becomes public, the hypocrite is judged more harshly than even those who did the same thing but didn’t try to claim they were above it. The researchers say this form of failed impression management is especially despised by observers and is more likely to occur among narcissists. And yes, we’ve also blogged about hypocrisy—particularly in the case of high-profile falls from grace.

Backhanded compliments: The final failed impression management strategy involves giving a backhanded compliment (e.g., “You are smart for an intern”). The intent with this strategy is to remind the recipient of the compliment of your (much) higher status and to make the person like you. The reality of the strategy is that it is experienced as a subtle but strategic put-down. Again, this strategy is more likely to be employed by the narcissist who typically fails to disregard the audience’s perspective. Sadly, we have not blogged about back-handed compliments, but we have blogged about an experience in a mock trial where one of the attorney’s formed a strong connection with the mock jurors with his “very attractive” necktie [for which he was complimented most sincerely].

So, why, when it is clear to the observer that these strategies do not work—do people keep using them? The researchers think that it results from a lack of accuracy in estimating others’ perceptions of us. Perhaps we do not get enough feedback (which is crucial to improving one’s performance and should be a central component of the witness preparation process). We have multiple posts on witness preparation that you may want to read.

Steinmetz, J. Sezer, O. Sedikides, C 2017 Impression mismanagement: People as inept self-presenters. Social Personality Psychology Compass, 11.