Instrumental behaviour consists of actions leading towards a stated goal…Expressive behaviour, on the other hand, consists of actions demonstrating to other people what sort of person you are…both [are] important
An example of instrumental behaviour might be having the goal of learning a new programming language so registering for a course on the topic or getting a relevant book out of the library. The example of expressive behaviour that the authors give is
sitting in the front of the lecture theatre and taking copious notes in a very visible manner to show that you take your studies very seriously
although I can think of a number of reasons why you might want to sit in the front of the lecture theatre and take copious notes that do not involve the need to show anything. An example of expressive behaviour among PhD students might be staying very long hours in the office to demonstrate that you are a dedicated student, rather than because that is the most productive or efficient way for you to work. (Again, sometimes it might actually be the most useful way for you to work.)
In the authors’ experience,
students are normally good at some types of instrumental behaviour and woefully bad at the sensible sorts of expressive behaviour, usually because nobody has explained to them which signals they need to send out.
It is easy to see how this situation could arise. In academia, certain conventions baffle those who are not familiar with them. (The concept of preparing a poster to take to a conference has been referred to as “quaint” by one non-academic acquaintance.) Indeed throughout this book, guidelines regarding expressive behaviour are implicit in the chapters discussing, for example, attending a conference, giving a talk and handling the viva.
Raising awareness of the concept of expressive behaviour is helpful to PhD students for two reasons:
One is simply that (as the authors suggest) may people are susceptible to some unhelpful types of this expressive behaviour. Being self-aware about this means that if someone finds themself caught in this way, they are in a position to (try to) decipher the signal that I am really trying to send out. They are more likely to be able to do this than anyone else, most of all the person they want to communicate with. The student could then work out how to act more constructively to achieve their goal.
Another reason is that appropriate expressive behaviour seems to be particularly critical when negotiating the academic path. As someone who does not find it easy to dissemble, thinking of my actions in terms of the messages that they send out might help me to find my way more easily.