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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Image Management


The image we project is a powerful communicator. It colors how people view us and how they react to us. Tess' carefully crafted public image as a confident assured young woman was covered up her true self as an actor. Her friends simply did not view here as the sensitive young woman she was inside.

How do we learn to manage our image so that it serves us well? How do we know what image we want others to see? How can we change our image when we need to do so?

Then we could become anything we would desire to be. If only we knew what we were and how we would like to change.

A basic understanding of who we are and how we are seen by others is the first step of image management. There is an excellent model we might use first depicted in the Johari Window (Luft, 1969).

Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham describe a human interaction model that focus on the understanding of how we see ourselves compared to how others see us. They developed a matrix called the Johari Window which depicts the possible variations of these understandings. The Johari model uses a four framed "window," as shown below. It is divides personal awareness into four different categories, as represented by its four quadrants: open, hidden, blind, and unknown. The theory would further suggest that the lines dividing the four panes are like window shades, which can move as an interaction between two people progresses. In the Johari model each person is represented by a window containing the following four elements of knowledge about self.
human interaction model

is the quadrant that is the "Open" window. It represents things about the person that are known by the individual and by others as well. This may include things like factual information, feelings, motives, behaviors, wants, desires, and needs.

Q-2 or the "blind" quadrant represents things that others may know about the individual but that are unknown by the person. It can be simple things such as dandruff on the shoulder or more complex things. For example, perhaps you observe a person using the word "irregardless" or "inflammable". These words do not exist as the appropriate terms are regardless or flammable. This person's use of English is poor and we choose not to say anything, to avoid embarrassing her. However this poor use of English leads us to conclude that this person is uneducated or even stupid. Now, here is potential major problem. How can this individual learn about others feelings about her? How can she understand the perceptions others may have?

Q-3 is the quadrant that represents the "hidden" quadrant. These are things that the individual knows about themselves, but that they choose not to share with others. As levels of trust increase between individuals the size of this window and the information shared changes. The things that remain hidden are reduced. The process of revealing intimate details by choice is called "self disclosure". Not all self disclosure is healthy.

Sometimes secrets regarding problems, sexual behavior and mental health may be better left unspoken. There is a saying in organized crime and in police work.

"The only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them is dead."

We need to be careful what secrets we choose to share, and with whom! Keeping secrets can be healthy and wise. It is a way to manage our image and identity.

Keeping secrets is an indication of self control (one of the emotional intelligences) and personal security. However, keeping secrets can take an emotional toll as there is energy and effort expended in not inadvertently revealing the secret. Not only is it important to be careful what secrets we share, it is important to be careful of the secrets we choose to keep!

Q-4 the final quadrant represents things that are unknown to both the individual and to others. This quadrant may include how people will react in previously inexperienced situations and circumstances. It may also be found when two people are trying to solve a new, complex or novel problem.

As people build their self-confidence, trust and self esteem it becomes increasingly safe and interesting to ask others to comment on our own blind, hidden and unknown Quadrants. When Q-1 matches Q-2, Q-3, and Q-4 perceptions, we are doing a good job of image management!

But a final word or two of caution, to reveal to another what they would choose to not know can be traumatic and even dangerous. There are reasons why people choose to store things in their hidden quadrant or are unable to see things in their blind and unknown quadrants. We need to be careful what it is that we ask to know, and to be cautious about sharing, what isn't asked to be understood. However, the normal human psyche has many normal and natural defense mechanisms to help people cope with those who would remake us in another image or have us know what we would choose to not understand. We can always:
1. ignore a comment
2. deny the statements or
3. explain away their process as a misunderstanding

It is inappropriate, unethical, and just plain wrong for a casual user to get someone to attempt to understand something beyond their normal capacity or desire to understand about themselves. Sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss. There may be a reason that things people place some things into Q-2, 3, 4!

Now, let's adjust the Johari window to help with an understanding of self image and image management.

understanding self image

The Reality (Q-1) is that we are somewhat nerdy, but we see ourselves as great athletes (Q-2), while in reality others see us as somewhat dishonest (Q-3), and we would like to be seen as royalty (Q-4). This may not be an issue unless we want the image and the perception to match. If we are nerds and are satisfied being nerds then there is no issue. If however we are nerds and the desire is to be seen as royalty then there is a need for image management.

"Consciousness is the perception of what passes in a man's own mind. Can another man perceive that I am conscious of any thing, when I perceive it not myself? No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience."
British philosopher John Locke (1632-1704)

The challenge in image management is to match the conscious with the experience, to marry the perception and the reality, or at least to marry the perception of others with our perceived desire of our own image. Film therapy is an excellent technique to help students gain skills in image management. Film therapy is a variation of a highly successful technique called bibliotherapy. In bibliotherapy, students read books where the main characters experience some social and emotional issues. The students identify with the character and gain insight into the issues. The follow-up group discussions focus on the issues that we wish to explore with the students. Activities and reflection opportunities can then further enhance the students' emotional growth.

While there are many films suitable for exploring image management we recommend two films "Breakfast Club & Stand by Me".

The film Breakfast Club is for mature high school audiences and may be inappropriate for some considering the strong language and frank sexual discussion and innuendo. Stand by Me, may be more appropriate for junior high school but does include what some may think as inappropriate language and discussion of sex. The truth is, that if we are going to teach students to be emotionally intelligent image managers, we will need to discuss strong and occasional inappropriate language. We asked a group of talented middle and high school students prior to using the two above described films. The students told us that they understood that there were times and places where they heard language such as would be heard in the film and that they (the students) were smart enough to know when and where such language was inappropriate. They went on to tell us the reasons that children and sometimes adults use such language. The discussion was extraordinary! It provided keen, insightful observations to children's understandings of their world. Now there are some who might suggest that this school might have been more mature, sophisticated, or accepting of this type of behavior.

So, we had the same discussion with children in several other urban, suburban and rural school districts all over the United States, and not to anyone's surprise, the children had exactly the same reaction.

There is a reason people use strong language and sex in films, books, stories, and in life. The children knew it. They understood. The real issue may well be whether the teacher, the administration, the school, or the parents will allow it. That we will leave for you to determine! The age and maturity of the students, the relationship of the school to the community, and the attitude of teachers, administrators and parents will dictate the policy.

If these films are not appropriate for the setting, it is possible to get edited versions of the films mentioned above, indeed of almost any film. The easiest way to get an edited copy of a film is to record it from a network broadcast. The censors will manage the community standards for you. The second alternative is to find other films. There are many films that may be used to teach emotional intelligence that will not offer the challenge perceived by some in the two examples cited. We include a selected bibliography at the end of this chapter. In any case try film therapy you will like it!

four step plan for filmtherapy

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