Sometimes, without intention, a theme emerges in writing these posts. Today is a case in point as I’ve written about egos and bragging. Along the way I’ve mentioned “self monitoring,” a term from psychology that Melissa can, and I’m sure will, define better than I can. My take away on describing it is one’s ability (or willingness, or inclination) to listen before speaking or acting. Listen to what others are saying, observe what they are doing. People are said to be low or high on self monitoring. Low self monitors speak out of turn, tell inappropriate jokes, wear the wrong outfit for the situation (like the man in denim overalls I once saw at a luau in Honolulu) – you get the idea. (Some people just don’t care – and we can all identify people who fit that description.) In contrast, high self monitors perceive the “vibe” in a conversation, they hear what others are saying, they listen. Then they adjust their comments accordingly. While there is certainly a continuum of performance on a self monitoring scale, striving for the high end usually results in better outcomes in social and work situations. In our world, the most successful clients/attorneys with whom we work have the ability to “play to the room.” They know, or get to know, their audience quickly and they adapt to the situation. While they may be aggressive in a cross examination, they can be compassionate when working with an injured party to a lawsuit (whether they represent that party or the other side). They know how to interact with the judge, and with the judge’s assistant. Their success, and their client’s success, depends on their ability to monitor and control their own behavior. This is true in most career situations.
Self monitoring was defined in the 1970s by Dr. Mark Snyder, a social psychologist, as the degree to which an individual is aware of, and in control of, his/her self presentations. Self monitoring is a personality trait that is possessed by everyone, although in varying amounts. Just as with other personality dimensions, most people are average self monitors, with fewer people at the lowest and highest levels of this continuum. High self monitors are people who are concerned with the impressions they make on others; they monitor their audience to ensure their behavior is appropriate for people they are with. Low self monitors, in contrast, do not care about the impressions they make on others; their behavior is consistent across situations and audiences. Low self monitors behave in ways consistent with their attitudes, while high self monitors do not necessarily behave in an attitude congruent manner. As with all personality traits, there is nothing particularly positive or negative ascribed to self monitoring, however, research on self monitoring has revealed high self monitors are more in touch with other people’s perceptions of situations, people, and things than low self monitors, due to their focus on other people’s behavior as a way to adapt their own behavior. In my work with trial lawyers, I have found they, like the population as a whole, vary considerably in self monitoring. I have spent considerable time observing attorneys at work. Some of them are keenly aware of their impact on other people, such as a judge or jury. I have watched as attorneys who are high self monitors battle it out when the jury is out of the courtroom, then stand, clasp their hands, and smile as the jury enters the room in an attempt to make a positive impression on the people who will decide their client’s fate. Other attorneys, low in self monitoring, tend to adopt a caustic, confrontational style regardless of who is present to observe their actions. Some people fault high self monitors for having a chameleon like demeanor, however, watching what one says to whom, in my opinion, is often the best approach than being “true to oneself” when being true to oneself is likely to alienate almost everyone. (If the reader is curious about his/her self monitoring score, it is easy to find the scale and self administer it.)