Do you often find yourself looking to others for cues on how to act in social situations? Have you ever been described as a “social chameleon?” Do you think you do things others might not in order to win favour with people? Are you almost always outwardly friendly to people, even if you dislike them?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may have a “high self-monitoring” personality.
So, what does that mean?
Essentially, high self-monitors tend to change their behaviours to suit their situational contexts, while low self-monitors tend to present a more consistent set of behaviours, independent of environmental factors. A high self-monitor might be more gregarious and outgoing with one group of people, but with a different group might be comparatively reserved and inhibited. In contrast, a low self-monitor would tend to simply be one way whatever the social setting.
There is no distinct advantage to being high or low self-monitoring—like any other personality trait, each comes with its relative strengths and weaknesses. High self-monitors are less likely to create conflict due to their higher awareness of how their behaviour impacts others. However, that same quality might lead them to be perceived as inconsistent, having weak values, and/or coming off as “fake” in their interactions.
Meanwhile, because of their relative disregard for how others perceive them, low self-monitors are more likely to ruffle feathers. At the same time, these are the people who tend to have the strongest values, and are usually seen as highly “authentic”—if they feel strongly about something, they’re likely to let others know, regardless of whether doing so will create conflict.
There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but for brevity’s sake I’ll trust my simplification of the two types captures the essence enough that readers can relate, at least for the sake of this article.
I’ve often wondered to myself: why are there so many different kinds of career advice out there? Especially because most of this advice contradicts some other piece of advice, it can get pretty difficult for advice-seekers to separate the good from the bad, which of course creates confusion, and more questions than answers.
At least part of the reason lies in the personality of the advice-giver. If we accept that personality traits are relatively constant—that is, difficult to change over one’s lifetime (and that’s a pretty big if, though most of what I’ve studied of personality seems to take this stance)—then advice that works well for one personality type will quite possibly not work out so well for another.
Here’s an example via Twitter, from a (highly respected and admired) colleague, of career advice that I’d qualify as great for low self-monitors, and perhaps not so great for high self-monitors:
“I’m seriously frustrated when people think that who they are at work & at home are different people.”
The message here indirectly implies that it’s more desirable to be “the same person” at home and at work. Now, that’s great for low self-monitors, especially those who have been trying to be different people in different contexts and having a hard time doing so. For those people, hearing this message might equate to a giant sigh of relief: “You mean I can be myself at work?!”
But what about high self-monitors? If, by the very nature of your personality, you prefer to modify your behaviour to fit in with others around you, then it doesn’t make much sense to me to start changing that. A low self-monitor might call that “being fake,” but for a high self-monitor, it’s just how they prefer to be, and to try to be the “same person” across different contexts would likely be inauthentic or (to use some lingo from my field) incongruent for them. Trying to be one way all the time would likely be distressful and awkward for a high self-monitor.
I suppose the message here is that self-awareness should ideally come before change.
So, are you a high or low self-monitor? You can get a brief glimpse using a free online quiz here. As it turns out, I’m almost exactly halfway between the two. I have some theories on that that I might touch on in another article.
Until next time!