5 On show: work as a performance
The impressions you give to other people, whether communicating in speech or writing, strongly influence how others respond to us and can influence working relationships. A prominent author in coaching, Robyn Jones, has written an honest account of his semi-professional coaching while also managing shyness and frustration, stemming from a speech impediment. For him trying to coach seemed to be inviting ridicule and loss of ‘face’ (Jones, 2006). He therefore describes his coaching work as a type of performance.
The following activity uses an extract from his explanation of coaching work as a performance and asks you to think about how you plan your communication.
Activity 4 Performance and managing impressions
Read through the following short extract from Jones’s (2006) article.
Portraying coaching as a ‘performance’
This article presents an … account of myself as coach of a semi professional football … team … The purpose is to tell a different, perhaps a ‘truer,’ story about coaches and coaching ... . Principal among these is a portrayal of coaching … as a performance aimed at managing the impressions of others. … The front constructed relates to convincing athletes that the coach is confident, expert, in total command of events, sure of his or her judgment and, hence, is to be unquestioningly respected. It is a performance to be nurtured and protected at all costs. The case … is made that coaching relies less on the mechanics of how or what to coach and more on who is coaching, their perceptions of how coaches ought to act, and the relationships they have with those being coached…
… More specific[ally], …[coaching] involve[s] attempts to hide weaknesses and to portray the person we would like to be.
Goffman’s (1959, 1969) work on personal ‘front’, ‘impression management’, and ‘presentation of the self’ examines notions inherently linked with social dealings, fulfilling others’ expectations and manipulating self-image, it serves as a useful … signpost to … my story …
Then consider the following questions:
- To what extent do you agree/disagree that the coaching/instruction role is a ‘performance’, and why?
- How do you plan your communication to ‘manage the impressions you give to others’?
Many observers of working relations would agree that coaching work is a form of performance in which, to a certain extent, you ‘click’ into a coaching or working role character. This is because the more extrovert aspects of your personality have to be emphasised, and the ability to smile and laugh, often with complete strangers and often when you don’t feel like doing so, is important. Conveying attributes such as enthusiasm, authority, openness and insight often requires the adoption of a front, particularly if the work situation has been repeated many times before (e.g. a gym induction). However, someone working with people needs the necessary insight to be able to work out what is expected and to interact in the appropriate way. With this in mind self-confidence, prior preparation and role-related knowledge all contribute.
A learner on a previous OU course observed: ‘I think it is also about using your personality to convince participants you are genuinely trying to help and support them. It throws up the question, is it better to be led by a competent person you don’t believe in, or by a less competent person you do believe in [i.e. who puts on a better performance]? If I’m honest I’d favour someone I believed in.’
- Managing impressions can take many forms; here are five examples that we came up with. The way you dress is often a starting point for how others perceive you. Then there is the impression of how well organised and prepared you are and how you react to unexpected events – planning ahead and the ability to draw on experience in order to deal with new situations perhaps becomes easier as you get older. We felt that honesty is an aspect of managing impressions because participants easily sense if someone doesn’t know what they are talking about. We also felt that body language can betray your best intentions; your non-verbal language often gives a stronger impression than words.