Question of the Week: Do You Play to an Inner or Outer Audience?


post 922966 1248285160 med Question of the Week: Do You Play to an Inner or Outer Audience?

Do you find it easy to mimic other people?

Do you ever act friendly to people you dislike?

When you’re uncertain how to act in a social situation, do you look to the behavior of others for cues?

Do you often seek the advice of your friends to choose movies, books, or music?

If you tended to answer yes to these questions, then you may be a “High Self-Monitor.”

High Self-Monitors are skilled at modifying their behavior to the social demands of a situation. They look for cues, and act on them. When in Rome, they do as the Romans do, according to psychologist Mark Snyder, who created the Self-Monitoring Scale.

Now answer these questions:

Is your behavior usually an expression of your true inner feelings, attitudes, and beliefs?

Do you find you can only argue for ideas that you already believe?

Do you dislike games like charades or improvisational acting?

Would you refuse to change your opinions, or the way you do things, in order to please someone else or win their favor?

If you tended to answer yes to these questions, then you may be a Low Self-Monitor.

Low Self-Monitors base their behavior on their own internal compass. They have a smaller repertoire of social behaviors and masks at their disposal. They’re less sensitive to situational cues, and less interested in role-playing, even when they know what the cues are.

It’s as if Low Self-Monitors and High Self-Monitors play to different audiences, Snyder has said: one inner, the other outer.

Being dualistic creatures, it’s hard to contemplate a scale like this without asking: “Which is better?”

But there’s no obvious answer to this question. Each way of being has its pros and cons.

Are Low Self-Monitors rigid and socially awkward? Or do they march admirably to the beat of their own drummers? Are High Self-Monitors conformist and deceptive? Or is their willingness to accommodate to situational norms an act of generosity and modesty? HSMs have been found to be better liars than LSMs – but also better actors, an art form that requires great empathy.

You may also be wondering how self-monitoring relates to introversion. Extroverts are more likely than introverts to be HSMs, but plenty of introverts are HSMs too. And the higher a self-monitor you are, the better you probably are at acting situationally extroverted, according to this study by psychologist Richard Lippa.

Me, I’m right in the middle. I’m a horrible mimic, dislike charades, and find it hard to argue a point unless I believe it 150%, but in social situations I try to do more or less what’s expected.

How about you? Which way do you lean?

(I have more questions from the Self-Monitoring Scale in my book, btw.)



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  1. Jane Calderon on 15.12.2011 at 16:20 (Reply)

    I am without a doubt, a low self-monitor, and proud of it! I find it difficult to enact expected social scripts because it feels phony, and I cannot stand phoniness in others, even less in myself. It’s one of the things I hate about my culture. I figure that those who like me, will like me regardless of how I act, and even better, if one acts like one’s natural self one will naturally attract those who share values in common. How much pleasanter life would be if people really meant it when they advise others to “be yourself!” That is code language for “conform to what the majority wants, but feign individuality at the same time.” The greatest paradox of the ages!

    It was by being myself that is how I ended up married to a fellow introvert who shares so much in common with me! If everybody wears the same mask, it is difficult to tell what people are really like, and acting takes more energy that a naturally introverted person would rather spend in tranquility.

    The reason I tend to be skeptical of extroverts is because they use the same sweet face upon everyone, like the sun who shines upon all. How can one tell who they really like and who they really detest? Nature gave humans the gifts of smiling and frowning in order that we may sort ourselves by sticking to friends and avoiding enemies. But these days, with people putting their iron fists in velvet gloves as they stab so-called friends with the sweetest of smiles in the name of greed and self-interest. The laws of nature have been subverted by human malice and artifice.

    Ambrose Bierce once said “Politeness is the most acceptable hypocrisy.” I understand that in order to reach one’s career goals, however, one must play by the rules of the Extrovert Ideal. YES, I KNOW, in Rome one should do as the Romans do- but perhaps that is precisely why Rome fell!

    Just my two cents.

    1. Christy on 19.12.2011 at 14:35 (Reply)

      “Politeness is the most acceptable hypocrisy.”
      I firmly disagree with that on a personal level. Perhaps it is true of some people that their politeness is hypocrisy, but I don’t see it as such in my case. When I’m polite to a person I can’t stand, I’m basically saying inside myself, “You deserve me to respect your fellow humanity and don’t deserve me to tear you apart just because we have personality issues. I deserve to be the kind of person who treats others well.” I’m also saying, “My feelings are my own. It’s none of your business how I feel inside. Why should I let you dictate whether I display my private feelings or not?” I find politeness to be both a shield for myself and a gift for others.

  2. Dan on 15.12.2011 at 16:24 (Reply)

    When in Rome I can do like a Roman and generally blend in with most social situations. I can argue almost any side of any issue. I despise all forms of theater. I never seek anyone’s recommendations for books or music however I do take some recommendations; invariably from reading books or other material online. For movies, see comment about theater.

    Having said that, I will not compromise on things that are important to me, but I don’t tend to have my self worth or ego tied up with things as to easily take offense.

    Observation: LSMs have trouble separating self from ideas. This is difficult in environments where open criticism is necessary and valued. I also frequently hear “stop playing Devil’s Advocate” from them.

    I’m a content Introvert

  3. Mary on 15.12.2011 at 17:04 (Reply)

    I’m an LSM - this time of year leaves me exhausted just trying my hardest to be out and about with office & family holiday functions. I’m not good at pretending and I hate charades! I’m a pleasant person but having a good time in a large social setting is practically impossible for me (I dread the thought of it for days)

  4. Mark on 15.12.2011 at 20:19 (Reply)

    I find in almost impossible to be anything other than my authentic self.

    This time of the year, I get the usual good-natured rolling of the eyes when I decline invitations to holiday parties; even the politically correct office party.

    I don’t like parties, and I don’t like the holidays (primarily because of the ritualized behavior they entail) and I’m at a point where it’s less painful to admit the truth than even spend the smallest amount of time pretending I’m having a good time at a party.

    Like an earlier poster, I don’t have much tolerance for people who I sense are not being authentic, but I guess I am enough of a self monitor that I try not to let my lack of tolerance show.


    1. Darren on 16.12.2011 at 03:43 (Reply)

      Well said Mark.

      Like you, the older I get the less I feel I need to conform to the expectations of others.

      It is my office party next monday afternoon. As usual I’m going to the gym instead.

  5. ghada on 16.12.2011 at 08:44 (Reply)

    a couple of years ago, i would’ve been an LSM hands down. now, i’m trying to think toward the middle. the older i get, the more i recognize the practicality of doing just that. i ask various types of people about social cues and see which fits best with my ideology, then do that. i choose my own books, movies, and music, regardless of what others advise me to do, though.

    for me, the difficulty lies in knowing when to care because most of the time, i just do what i think is right, regardless of what others think. it’s a problem that i’m trying to clear up by finding the middle.

  6. Poppy on 16.12.2011 at 10:04 (Reply)

    I think I’m somewhere in the middle, leaning towards LSM.

    Several years ago, I got burnt pretty badly by trying to be what other people expected me to be. I quit doing it, and learned to live from myself instead.

    But I do enjoy acting and role playing. Whether I’m any good at them is another thing entirely, and that, I don’t know.

  7. Ralph Bormet on 17.12.2011 at 05:26 (Reply)

    I am probably in the middle like you, Susan, but I believe that I am more of a LSM when I am with people that I trust and with whom I feel comfortable. At those times, I can “let my hair down” and relax a little in the social situation and allow my mask(s) to drop. With friends, I can be more of myself and less of what I think others expect of me. Politeness and manners are the grease that allow the wheels of social intercourse to move smoothly. The brash, uncompromising individualist who does not seem to care what others think of him may be interesting to observe but very difficult to deal with.

    1. Luna on 22.12.2011 at 16:06 (Reply)

      Yes that is an excellent point about politeness and manners and about uncompromising individuals. I am like you, in the middle. I am however a gifted mimic, a skill of questionable merit which I perfected in high school to combat bullying. I have rarely used it in my adult life. (It seems my son has inherited this ability and I constantly remind him that like Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility!) I do find this time of year super draining though and loathe staff parties, which my husband and I are obliged to attend, for certain reasons. We are both social introverts and would much rather be home with the pets and our son.

  8. Christy on 19.12.2011 at 14:30 (Reply)

    I’d say I’m large amounts of both. I’m very good at picking up social cues and following rules, but I refuse to do everything everyone else does just to fit in. I’ve never fit in and I have very rarely ever wanted to. I won’t change my opinions based on other people’s opinions, but I very often keep my opinions to myself. I behave with great politeness to other people whether I like them or not, because I deeply believe that other people deserve me to treat them with courtesy, and also because it’s none of their business how I think or feel. I keep what is inside me close and share it when I intend to and not otherwise. I love acting and improvisational games; I passionately hate group-think activities, like the stupid things they try to get people to do at baseball games, and refuse to take part in them.
    I’m wondering whether this is more of a Thinking/Feeling (on the MBTI scale) question than an Introvert/Extravert question. It seems to me that people who deal with the world in an F way would be more likely to be HSM, while Ts are more likely to do their own thing like LSMs. I’m only slightly more T than F, and I’m slightly more LSM than HSM.
    I also wonder why the terms “High Self-Monitoring” and “Low Self-Monitoring” were chosen. They don’t seem to fit the descriptions.

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