Academic journal article Communication Studies

Impression Management and the Use of Procedures at the Ritz-Carlton: Moral Standards and Dramaturgical Discipline

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Impression Management and the Use of Procedures at the Ritz-Carlton: Moral Standards and Dramaturgical Discipline

Article excerpt


Erving Goffman's work on impression management has proven itself to be both enduring and widely applicable. While scholars continue to benefit from the richness of Goffman's original conceptualizations, the theory has also encouraged many new avenues of exploration in the last forty years. Throughout an ever-growing number of disciplines, impression management is explaining the motivations behind complex human performances.

Goffman's work has been applicable to much of our own work, which focuses upon the use of procedures in contemporary organizational settings. In this article, we demonstrate how Goffman's (1959, 1967) work on moral standards and dramaturgical discipline can inform the four types of impressions we found in connection with service employees of the Ritz-Carlton. Viewing our analysis through Goffman's lens, we argue that procedures codify moral standards thereby offering employees specific means by which they can enact dramaturgical discipline.


While earlier theorists (e.g., Burke, 1950; Hart & Burk, 1972) offered perspectives on the person as performer, Goffman (1959) was the first to develop a specific theory concerning self presentation. In his well-known work, Goffman created the foundation and the defining principles of what is commonly referred to as impression management. In explicitly laying out a purpose for his work, Goffman proposes to "consider the ways in which the individual in ordinary work situations presents himself and his activity to others, the ways in which he guides and controls the impression they form of him, and the kind of things he may or may not do while sustaining his performance before them" (p. xi).

Impression management, as conceptualized by Goffman, requires the presence of others. Performers, seeking certain ends in their interest, must work to adapt their behavior in such a way as to "give" and "give off" the correct expression to a particular audience (Goffman, 1959, p. 2). In turn, the performer requests that the audience takes his or her performance seriously. We also expect others, our teammates, to help us prepare for the performance. Goffman argues that impression management reveals the moral character of our everyday lives because it involves accepted standards by which we have agreed to live. In addition, he sees impression management as essentially dialectical. He suggests that because people are concerned with appearing to live up to moral standards, they spend their lives on the amoral acts of keeping up the show.

In later works, Goffman continues to develop his theory of impression management. While fundamentally interested in the way in which social order is maintained, Goffman (1963) focuses on a specific type of regulation, "the kind that governs a person's handling of himself and others during, and by virtue of, his immediate physical presence among them" (p. 8). According to Goffman, individuals participate in social interactions through performing a "line" or "a pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which he expresses his view of the situation and through this his evaluation of the participants, especially himself" (1967, p. 5). Such lines are created and maintained by both the performer and the audience. By enacting a line effectively, a person gains positive social value or "face." The success or failure of an interaction depends largely upon the performer's ability to maintain face. Managing impressions is typically a cooperative effort with benefits that extend to those beyond the individual performer. The rule of self-respect and the rule of consideration mean that the person tends to conduct himself or herself during an encounter to maintain both his or her own face and the face of the other participants (Goffman, 1967). As a result, a person is required to display a kind of character. He or she must be seen as a dependable player; he or she must be "someone who can be relied upon to maintain himself [or herself] as an interactant, poised for communication, and to act so that others do not endanger themselves by presenting themselves as interactants to him [or her]" (p. …

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